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An example for all: Moulton autistic teenager living his dream coaching youth sports

Decatur Daily - 9/26/2018

Sept. 26--MOULTON -- When Jody Waldrop showed up for his first practice as a youth football coach in August, one of the first things he demanded was a coaches-only meeting.

"He had a binder with six coaching tips," said Chris Smith, who is head coach of the Moulton midget league football team for ages 8-10. "He wanted to tell us how to treat the kids, and the first thing on his list of coaching tips was keep God first in everything we do."

Waldrop, who was born three months premature, was autistic and wasn't given much of a chance to walk if he lived, is living his dream by coaching, said his parents, Billy and Connie Waldrop.

"He's always loved sports and wanted to play on a regular team, but couldn't," his mother said.

Waldrop, 19, weighed 1 pound and 13 ounces at birth. Doctors gave him a "slim to none" chance of survival, his mother said. His twin brother lived for 18 days, and Waldrop spent the first three months of his life in University of Alabama Birmingham Hospital.

He weighed 3 pounds and 9 ounces when released from the hospital, and his parents said they were told to look at his life as "day-to-day."

"We didn't think about his first birthday or first day of school," his mother said. "We just looked at life from one day to the next, and doctors told us he would never walk."

Walking did prove to be a challenge and didn't happen until he was about 4, but Jody never stopped growing. At 6-foot-6, he has a towering presence over the youth players he coaches. But they're not intimidated because everything he says is encouraging and with a soft voice, starting quarterback Jack Boyll said.

"He encourages us and I like him," Boyll said.

"I just cheer for the boys and do what they ask me to," Jody said. "I want them to pay attention, listen to the coaches and do their best."

He learned his coaching style while participating in Athletics For All, a league Steve and Dewanna Jones started for children with special needs.

The league focuses on participation and letting kids know -- regardless of their physical or mental challenges -- that no opportunities are closed to them.

Jody played soccer, basketball and baseball and was on a special needs football team that won a state championship at Auburn University. He graduated from Lawrence County Christian School in 2017, but he never stopped coming to Moulton's recreation facilities where Athletics For All plays games.

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Matthew Logston, who coached an 8-and-under basketball team, said he noticed Jody was at the recreation center every time his team practiced.

"I could see how much he loved being around the kids, and the kids enjoyed being around him," he said.

Logston approached Jody about helping coach his team and Jody immediately agreed.

"He came home, got on the computer and within a week, he knew everything about basketball," his father said. "That's the way he is. When he gets involved with something, he's going to learn everything he can."

Jody was the same way before he started playing sports. When his father was transportation director for Lawrence County Schools, Jody spent a considerable amount of time at the school district's bus shop.

"He knew everything about every bus and every bus route," his father said.

During one training session for new bus drivers, a state official requested that Jody be allowed to attend the classes. When new bus drivers couldn't answer questions, the instructor turned to Jody and he knew most of the answers.

Billy Waldrop said the instructor wanted to use Jody as an example that people can overcome any challenge, so he allowed him to take the written and driving test.

"He scored 100 on the written test and 96 on the driving test," Billy Waldrop said.

The same attention he gave to buses, Jody gave to coaching. Logston said he created a basketball play book and understood all the rules of the game, but never lost track that his role was to help "kids to become better people."

"It brightens my day to be around him because it's hard not to like and want to be around somebody with his attitude," he said.

Logston invited Jody to help coach his youth baseball team and this is where he met Smith.

When Smith became a youth football team head coach, Jody was one of the first people he asked to join his staff.

"I'll never forget what he said," Smith chuckled. "He said he needed to check his schedule."

It wasn't a joke, as Jody is helping with a Moulton-based travel baseball team that plays most of its games in Flint.

Jody's parents said he spent countless hours on the computer researching football and diagramming plays. They said he studied rules and read about the history of the sport.

Smith said Jody dissected the playbook and added several plays to the wishbone offense that have paid dividends for the Red Devils.

"No matter the situation or what's going on, Jody comes to practice and games with a good attitude," the coach said. "He gets water for the kids, pats them on the back and checks on them when they get hurt."

Smith said if the world had 50 more people like Jody "the world would be 50 times better.

"He's a role model for me and everyone he comes around." -- deangelo@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2469. Twitter @DD_Deangelo.

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(c)2018 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.)

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