On the evening of Jan. 12, you could smell the aroma of hot, buttered popcorn as you approached the Field House at Prestonwood Christian Academy (PCA). The PCA Pride Pep Band played game favorites and excitement filled the room. The stands were overflowing with a standing room only crowd. The PCA head of school, Dr. Larry Taylor, welcomed the crowd to the Second Annual Special Friends Basketball Game. Just as the band finished the National Anthem, the announcer, Lee Whitney, announced players as they emerged from the inflatable tunnel. The crowd erupted into a cheering frenzy!
The PCA Special Friends Basketball Game provides the community with the chance to support special needs friends and families from the school. These players partner with the middle school boys’ basketball team for a fun-filled game! PCA Middle School cheerleaders also work with a group of special needs children who have the chance to cheer during the game.
Lee’s mother, Christina, could not be happier. She shares, “Our son was invited to participate in the first Special Friends Basketball exhibition game as an announcer. The day after that event, in 2015, Lee started talking about wanting to do it again, and in fact, that opportunity kicked off his being able to announce baseball and football games for the Miracle League of Frisco. He asked about returning to PCA countless times throughout the year and was fortunate enough to be invited back again for the most recent exhibition. He planned a special introduction for this year’s event, in the style of Bruce Buffer, that he was excited to share with the crowd. We cannot thank PCA enough for including Lee and all the kids in this very special event. It has truly been life-changing for Lee, and he is looking forward to returning in 2017!”
Lee says, “With this event going on every year, the Frisco Miracle League might have a new best friend!”
The first Special Friends Basketball Game at PCA was an incredible event, with faculty, students, parents and friends serving and loving the school’s special friends and their families. “At PCA, we intentionally focus on creating and nurturing a community culture, a sense of family,” says Dr. Taylor. As the school worships God for His creation and the very gift of life, they reaffirm their commitment to the dignity of every human life, including those with special needs. “According to the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitor (ADDM), one in 68 children in the U.S. has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and according to the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), one in every 691 babies in the U.S. is born with Down syndrome, or about 6,000 annually. “The PCA community includes families that know the challenges and the joys of parenting children with special needs,” Dr. Taylor comments.
PCA parents Lee and Carolyn Phegley have four children: Anna Kate (PK5), Luke (2nd grade) and 15-year-old twin sons, Sam and Jacob. Sam and Jacob have autism. Mr. Phegley does not deny that parenting children with special needs can be challenging, but having Jacob and Sam in their lives is a blessing. He says, “As parents, Carolyn and I emphasize that God has created Sam and Jacob just as they are. Moreover, He has a purpose for their lives.” A passage of Scripture that is often heard in the Phegley home is Psalm 139:14. It states, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Everyone, at some point, experiences stressful situations, personal storms or struggles. The Phegleys have learned that it is a matter of how you face those storms that makes all of the difference. Mrs. Phegley’s solution to overcoming storms is to “stop waiting for the storm to pass. Learn to dance in the raindrops. Learn to rest in the assurance of God’s faithfulness.”
God is faithful. He had a perfect plan. As a continuation of its celebration of life, PCA was seeking a partner for an event that would include the entire family and be a positive experience for everyone. Mr. Phegley volunteers with the Miracle League of Frisco, a sports organization for children with special needs from the ages of 5 to 19, seeking activities that create a positive experience for the children. PCA and the Miracle League of Frisco partnered for the first ever PCA Special Friends Basketball Game in the PCA Field House on Jan. 26, 2015. Middle school basketball players were paired with Miracle League team players and the comradery among the players was instant. Eric Leininger, the PCA middle school boys’ basketball coach, loves working with the team. He shares, “By far, it is the most fun and important game our kids play all year. They have such a great time getting to spend time with the kids and enjoy the friendship, atmosphere and the game of basketball. It does not get any better than this!” Parents Bill and Amy Certain welcomed the opportunity for their son, Shane, to play. “Shane says his favorite thing about playing at PCA is the large crowd. He says it is his all-star game. The boost in his self-esteem is amazing,” they share.
Joy Lord, the PCA middle school cheer coach and a PCA alumna, was excited to be a part of the game this year and shares, “
As an alumna who had never experienced this game before, it was so neat to be a part of something that was so much bigger than yourself. I remember, as a PCA student, feeling like PCA always did an outstanding job of making me feel special — every chapel, every academic celebration, whatever the occasion was, PCA made sure it was executed with excellence. The entire PCA community was part of the event. The middle school cheerleaders absolutely loved it and said it was ‘by far the best game of the entire year!’”
The Phegleys’ second grader, Luke, loves sports and especially PCA sports. What Luke loves most is seeing his big brother play at PCA, and especially to see the crowd cheering for Jacob. “He can see the absolute worth God instills in us — in all of us.”
PCA’s athletic director, Coach Chris Cunningham, made a wonderful comment that helped capture the spirit of the event, saying, “The Special Friends Basketball Game is one of the most fulfilling events we have here at PCA! Every person who participates on this night comes away blessed!”
Helen Morris, the director of the special needs ministry at Prestonwood Baptist Church (PBC), reached out to families with specials needs kids to experience the event. The Special Needs Ministry at Prestonwood provides appropriate Bible study and worship for every age, hosts events throughout the year and offers monthly respite opportunities so parents can have a night off. Through this ministry, a group of adults with special needs were invited to participate in the halftime shoot-around. “The PCA Special Needs Basketball Game gives the families from PCA a chance to learn more about this special population and show them Christian support and love,” Ms. Morris says. “The participants with special needs get an opportunity to play in a basketball game or be part of the supporters. Participants from group homes have very few opportunities to be a part of sporting events or join in with PCA. It is a win-win situation for all of us.”
The Geren family was one of the families contacted through the PBC ministry. They share, “This is our second year to attend this event, and it is very special for our family. JW was able to play this year, and he had a blast. Jackson cheered again and, as always, loved it! It is so special and something we look forward to with anticipation. Thank you so much for this! These kids so often get overlooked, so it really means so much to us!”