Casey Heussner and Jared were approaching me at the same time, so I knew that something was up. Having been their Blazer patrol leader for several months, I could frequently read their actions.
“Mom,” Jared began. “We want J. J. Baird to start coming to our patrol meetings. We’ve been talking to him, and he really wants to come.”
“I thought you said that J. J. was mean and that in Primary class he always hit you,” I responded.
“He did at first,” Casey replied, “but that was only because he was afraid that we wouldn’t like him. Brother Lamb explained to us about J. J. He told us to be patient with him and be his friend.”
“Will you try once more? Will you call Sister Baird and see if it’s OK with her?” Jared asked.
“I’ll be glad to,” I said.
J. J. and his family had moved into our ward a few months earlier. As soon as I learned that one of the Baird boys was of Blazer age, I had called Sister Baird to make arrangements to get him involved in Scouting. She wasn’t sure that J. J. could keep up with the other Scouts, however, because he was moderately retarded. She felt that it would be better to wait until he became more comfortable in the new ward.
But I had promised the boys, so I decided to try again. Brother John Lamb, the Blazer A Primary teacher, invited me to observe his Primary class the following Sunday.
J. J. responded to John especially well. When John asked him to read a scripture, J. J. went to the front of the class and began fumbling through the words. Brother Lamb helped him over the harder ones. When J. J. had finished reading, Brother Lamb hugged him and said, “You did very well, J.J.”
J. J. earnestly responded, “So did you, John.”
I darted a glance at the other two Blazers. Neither of them snickered; both just waited for the lesson to continue, and I determined to make J. J. a part of the patrol.
I called Sister Baird again. When I assured her that Casey and Jared really wanted J. J. to be their friend, she agreed to give it a try.
Our first patrol meeting with J. J. involved a trip to a mineral show. J. J. picked up a rock that had a fish fossil in it and announced loudly, “Jared, this fish is dead.”
A few museum patrons chuckled. Ignoring them, Jared nodded his head and gently said, while displaying his own specimen, “I know, J. J. This one is too.”
Scouting has a merit program designed especially for boys who are marginally retarded. The requirements aren’t as difficult as the standard ones, enabling “special” Scouts to progress to First Class as their capabilities allow.
One afternoon the Blazers spent the whole meeting teaching J. J. the Scouting salute and the flag ceremony, two requirements for one of the badges he could earn. We were soon to have a court of honor, and they wanted to make sure that J. J. received an award.
The following Sunday we were at a special Scout fireside. When the colors were presented, J. J. stared intently at Jared and Casey. Once the two boys realized that they were being copied, they straightened up and saluted the flag perfectly. J. J. also saluted the flag perfectly.
J. J. knew that the other Scouts were earning merit badges. He was very interested in Casey’s Sports merit badge and wanted one too.
“I don’t think that you can get one, J.J.,” Casey told him, explaining, “You have to participate in two sports and be in a tournament.”
“I can do that, Casey,” J. J. pleaded. “I can run real good.” Casey looked to me for help, and I told J. J. that we would find something that he could do to earn his sports merit badge.
That same weekend I saw a notice in the paper about the Special Olympics and sent for information.
The Chandler City Special Olympics team practiced on Saturday mornings, so we changed our patrol meeting times to fit that schedule. Each week the Blazers met at the park to practice with the other athletes. J. J. participated in the actual events, while the other two boys timed the runners, measured softball throws, and cheered for everyone. Helping J. J. had become a patrol project.
The practices lasted three months. During that time, J. J. participated in the city meet and the county meet. He won first and second places in his two events—the softball throw and the 40-meter run.
Next, J. J. went to the state competition held at Arizona State University in Tempe. Its opening ceremonies included a parade of athletes, where each group passed by the cheering crowd. Then the Special Olympics flame was lit. Later, the athletes and their families were treated to a banquet.
The next morning the competition began. Jared, Casey, and I sat in the bleachers with the Baird family, searching the crowded field for J.J.’s red hair. We spied him just as he was beginning his first of three turns at the running broad jump. From where we sat, it looked like J. J. had made some very good jumps.
His next event was the 100-meter race. Competition for this meet was greater than it had been for the city and county meets. Although J. J. ran as fast as he could, he only placed fifth. Jared and Casey tried to make a big deal about J.J.’s fifth place ribbon, but he wouldn’t cheer up.
“What about the running broad jump,” I asked. “Did he win anything there?”
Brother Baird shook his head. “The judges say that they don’t have any record of his jumps, and no one can recall seeing him do any.”
We had been home about an hour when I answered a knock on our front door. J. J. and his family were standing on my doorstep, grinning. Hanging around J.J.’s neck was a Special Olympics gold medal!
“What happened!” I exclaimed with delight.
Brother Baird explained. “I remembered that I had filmed J.J.’s running broad jump with the video camera. I took it over and showed the footage to the judge. He searched again for J.J.’s score. Not only did he find it but he saw that J. J. had the longest jump of the day!”
“Tell Jared and Casey,” J. J. yelled from the car window as they drove away.
At the next court of honor, J. J. was especially honored. He was awarded several Scout badges, including his Tenderfoot badge and his Sports merit badge. And Jared and Casey had earned their Handicapped-Awareness merit badges.
I overheard the three Blazers congratulate each other after the court of honor. As Casey admired J.J.’s new merit badge, he declared, “Well, J.J., you’re a real Scout now.”
J.J., pointing to Casey’s merit badge, said, “So are you, Casey, so are you.”