Young Fort Lewis athlete special, indeed
March 26, 2009
By Bob Reinert
FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Once 10-year-old C.J. Meadows picked up a basketball, a gold medal was in the bag. At least that's what Junior Smith, coach of the Fort Lewis Tigers, told C.J.'s dad.
"He told me, straight from day one, 'Yeah, he's going to win,'" said Curtis Meadows.
Smith, who has been coaching Special Olympians at Fort Lewis for a while, has an eye for talent. And he liked what he had seen in C.J., who was preparing for the individual skills basketball competition.
"I've seen a lot of those special-needs kids," Smith said. "And he is very gifted in a lot of ways."
He showed his talents at the Special Olympics Washington Winter Games 2009 March 6-8 in Wenatchee, shooting, passing and dribbling his way to the junior division (ages 8-15) individual skills championship. Accuracy in those disciplines was rewarded by points, and only two points separated the top three competitors.
"It was close," Smith said. "If he'd have made a mistake in passing or (dribbling), I think he would have lost."
C.J. overcame a cold-shooting day with sizzling passing and dribbling to win with 60 points.
"A lot of Special Olympics kids cannot compete with him," Smith said.
Meadows, on hand to see C.J. win gold, called home to Dawn, his wife of nearly 18 years.
"I was very happy," Meadows recalled. "She was screaming on the phone."
Meadows, a retiring sergeant first class, said he wished he had gotten C.J., a fourth-grader at Salters Point Elementary School in Steilacoom, involved much earlier in the program.
"Well, to be honest with you, I would say probably the last couple months we just started to get him involved, because I didn't know (anything) about it," Meadows said. "He came home from school one day with a brochure."
C.J., the oldest of three Meadows children, is autistic. Meadows said that his son struggles most with social interaction.
"When we first got here, he shut down," said Meadows of Fort Lewis. "He wouldn't even look at anybody. Nobody. He's a little better now.
"I started introducing him to basketball while he was here. He had a little toy basketball set at home."
Smith said he has enjoyed working with C.J., who opens up to people with whom he's comfortable. C.J. spent 10 weeks training with Smith and won the regional competition in Bremerton before his victory at the state event.
"He's very coachable," Smith said. "I tell him to do something, he's always done it. If I could have had five like him, or six like him, I could have had a team."
Just where the Meadows will settle in retirement remains up in the air. More certain is C.J.'s future participation in Special Olympics.
"He has no choice," said a smiling Meadows. "We want to get him involved."
Bob Reinert is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.