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Feature on autistic athlete

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by goldy220, Jun 21, 2011.

  1. goldy220

    goldy220 New Member

    Hey guys, this is my first time posting in the workshop. I just completed a feature on a local autistic athlete and was hoping for feedback. I'm not aware of how big J-Mac is elsewhere, but he's huge in our coverage area since it happened here. That's why I mention him.

    Autism never got in the way of Naples grad Ian Liebentritt, on or off the court

    NAPLES - Ian Liebentritt was just 13 years old when Greece Athena High School’s Jason McElwain, who was diagnosed with autism at a young age, stepped into that national spotlight after playing in the team’s final regular season game.

    “It was an incredible story how he just came off the bench and scored 20 points in four minutes,” said Liebentritt, who is also autistic. “In 11th grade, I didn’t play much and I often would think of it as I had this many points and J-Mac had 20 in four minutes.”

    Liebentritt eventually did surpass McElwain in career points after playing major minutes as a senior for Naples this season. Ian also was a key contributor on the varsity tennis and golf teams.

    The son of Jeff and Kathy Liebentritt was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder, a form of autism, at the age of three. It took Ian until about then to start speaking. As part of the disorder, Ian is unable to smile on command.

    “It’s hard for me to look people in the eye,” Ian explained. “It’s often harder for me to concentrate on the task.”

    Ian went to Happiness House in Canandaigua for preschool and occupational, physical, speech and music therapy for two years.

    The condition also affects muscle development and coordination, so Jeff said Ian needed to practice a lot harder to be at the same level of the average boy his age. Ian played detailed imaginary games of football and basketball, including his own play-by-play commentary, turnovers and penalties he called on himself.

    Ian started Little League baseball in kindergarten and participated in Challenger basketball from second to fifth grade at the Geneva YMCA. The Challenger leagues are for boys and girls who are mentally or physically challenged.

    Ian said he didn’t develop an interest in sports until second grade.

    “My dad handed me a March Madness tournament bracket to fill out then I became interested in that,” Ian said. “Then I become interested in the NBA and NFL.”

    In the fall, Ian golfed on the Naples varsity team for the first time. His best round came at Reservoir Creek Golf Course in Naples. Ian hit a 9-over par 44 on the front nine.

    At 6-feet, 5-inches tall, Ian was literally a huge asset to the Big Green’s varsity basketball team. One of Ian’s interests is statistics, so he rattled off the stat lines from his best games without hesitation. Against Harley-Allendale Columbia, he started and scored 14 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Against Dundee he recorded a career-high 16 points.

    Jeff said that people affected by autism are often very literal. So in the case of basketball, Ian did exactly what he was coached to do in terms of where he was supposed to be on the court.

    “He has a different mentality than anybody else,” teammate Sheldon Sweltz said. “He never goofs around; he doesn’t know how to. He always works hard and is fun to be with and play with. He’s also really smart about everything on the court.”

    Ian recently put together a packet of statistics for the Naples basketball teams he was on from eighth grade through his senior year.

    “It’s fun to figure out how well everyone did,” he said.

    Ian did some this from memory, especially for his junior year where statistics weren’t always available. Each player received a copy.

    “It had all the stats for all the players,” teammate Ian Phillips said. “Points-per-game, rebounds-per-game, assists, steals — it was pretty cool to see. It was for each individual game and it had the averages. He covered it all.”

    Ian’s impressive memory was useful to his father when he coached the Naples JV basketball team.

    “If I said, ‘Ian what’d we do against this team?’ He’d tell me the exact score, he’d tell me who scored how many points and what did they do and who was on their team last year,” Jeff said. “Talk about a scouting report.”

    His memory is also full of other things that interest him such as minor league baseball players and United States history. Phillips said once they were playing basketball and Ian mentioned a weird fact about Richard Nixon.

    Ian’s family, coaches, teammates and even bus drivers have all benefited from the senior’s incredible sense of direction. Varsity basketball coach Mike Salter said Ian could tell you the exact time the bus would arrive at their destination, whether it was Romulus or East Rochester.

    “As far as getting to games, if we missed a turn or something he would know where we need to go,” Salter said. “We played Williamson last year and we’d never been there and he was able to get us there.”

    When it’s time to get Ian a present, he always wants a new atlas. The senior studies it and draws lines over the roads he has traveled on

    “It helps me keep track for the future,” Ian said. “I just like to know.”

    When his family was driving to New Orleans in April, Ian told them what roads to take. His mother is able to call him for directions if she is ever lost.

    “It’s kind of nice, we don’t need OnStar,” Jeff said. “We just need Ian.”

    This past spring, Ian went 4-2 at second and third singles for the varsity tennis team and finished 6-0 while mostly paired with Cory Holton at first doubles.

    “He is a good tennis player,” coach Bill Moesch said. “(Ian) just got the ball back, nothing fancy, no great power strokes, but very consistent and that’s how he won.”

    Ian is also very involved at the high school as a class officer, president of the sports writing club and member of National Honor Society.

    In the fall, Ian is going to attend Finger Lakes Community College with plans to transfer because FLCC only has one class in his desired field of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). “That’s when you take maps and you use them to analyze statistics,” Ian said.

    He has already narrowed the four-year schools to the State University of New York at Cortland, James Madison University, University at Buffalo and California University of Pennsylvania.

    Ian’s basketball career received far less fanfare than J-Mac’s. Jeff jokes that he told Salter to only let Ian play the last four minutes of the last game to help his ESPY chances.

    “Unfortunately he had to start games and score points,” Jeff jokes.

    Ian is excited about starting to learn about GIS, though he isn’t sure what type of job he wants to pursue in the field. It’s likely Ian will do just fine whatever he does with the degree, as it’s a combination of two of his greatest skills and interests — statistics and maps.
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