OCOEE — For Jarrett Wiggers, the realization of just how dedicated senior Brandon Vees was to making it on the Legacy Charter football team came unexpectedly one morning.
The football program at Legacy uses the web service Hudl to help its players study the playbook and game film. As an administrator within the program, Wiggers had the ability to check and see which players had been logging in to study up and for how long they had done so.
So, one morning, a weekday morning on a school day, Wiggers was in his office scrolling through the login activity and saw something that caught his eye.
“I came across Brandon and I thought, ‘That’s weird — it says he’s logged in right now,’ and it was like 10 o’clock in the morning,’” Wiggers said. “So I walked down the hallway and looked in the door of the classroom he was in, and he’s on the computer in the corner on Hudl. I don’t know what he was supposed to be doing, but he finds every opportunity he can to jump on there.”
The dedication from Vees comes with a purpose — Vees is a person with autism. The offensive and defensive lineman for the Eagles during football season had to work tirelessly simply to keep up with Legacy’s playbook on schematic attacks.
Now, Vees is in the middle of his first season on the Eagles’ varsity basketball program after playing on the junior varsity team the past few seasons.
It is a unique opportunity for the senior, who comes off the bench for Legacy during basketball season, one that is a byproduct of Vees’ work ethic and desire to be an athlete, as well as the culture of the school’s campus.
In a way, Vees’ inclusion on two of the school’s varsity sports programs is representative of the kind of principles upon which the school was founded. Legacy High School and Hope Charter School, which share a campus on the Winter Garden-Ocoee border, were founded by Crystal Yoakum after she became dissatisfied with the options for her own son, Josiah, who also is a person with autism.
Yoakum found that most options centered around the idea of keeping the children with special needs separated from the rest of the student population, and she wanted her son to be able to work toward being integrated into standard classes, where possible.
As such, part of the school’s mission statement reads that “… we want to provide an inclusion model for autistic children that would allow a gradual transition from the ESE classroom to a regular education classroom, thus offering the same opportunity for them to reach their full potential.”
For Vees’ father and stepmother, Paul and Lisa Vees, as well as his mother, Cindy Vees, having Brandon attend Legacy has been a blessing in that it has created opportunities that likely would not have existed for him elsewhere.
“I don’t know they would actually take the time with him (to be able to play sports) at the bigger schools,” Paul Vees said. “Here they definitely take the time and show him how to do things. … After being here (at Legacy) for this length of time, it’s like night-and-day.”
Of course, Brandon isn’t only on the football and basketball squads as a friendly gesture. The senior, who Wiggers said put on significant muscle in the offseason, was a key contributor for the football team and has seen the floor some in basketball.
“He’s not only able to be a part of the team, but to participate in practice and not just be on the sideline,” said Matthew Post, Legacy’s boys basketball coach.
Brandon had considerable success at the JV level for hoops, scoring as many as 16 points in a single game, so the staff has had to guide him through the adjustment to reduced playing time at the varsity level.
“Coming off of a football season where he was one of our starters and then coming into a basketball season where we get him in when we can, it’s hard for him to understand why that is,” Wiggers said. “You have to explain to him in very great detail why that is.”
Still, Vees’ dedication persists — and translates over to his play.
“He’s tenacious — he goes after (rebounds),” Kole Enright, a senior on the Eagles’ basketball team, said. “I think he just loves competing.”
BENEFIT TO OTHERS
While it is obvious to Brandon’s parents that being at Legacy has greatly benefited him, Wiggers believes his presence also has been beneficial to his teammates.
“They got as much, or more, out of having Brandon as a part of our team as he got out of being a part of our team,” Wiggers said. “It taught them patience — there were times when it was very easy to be frustrated with him. … The boys really learned to adjust to that and to be uplifting and encouraging.”
The athletic director for Legacy said those benefits extend to himself and his other coaches on campus, too.
“It’s not always easy to make sure that you’re keeping track of that because you’ve got 30 boys,” Wiggers said. “That was something that we learned to do as a staff.”
It’s a sentiment that Post, who formerly was a coach at Ocoee High School, shares.
“It’s helped me grow and understand what he’s overcome just to be on the court,” Post said.
SCORING ONE FOR TIM
Anyone who knows Brandon probably knows about his favorite athlete, former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow.
“I like him because he was a great quarterback,” Brandon said. “He was a great quarterback because of his faith. … He’s a great Christian person.”
Brandon is known to wax poetic about Tebow, and like his idol, Vees wanted to score a touchdown at least once during his high school career. Toward the end of season, Wiggers and his staff arranged for that to happen. Brandon, normally a lineman, got to carry the ball several times in one of the Eagles’ final games — with one of those runs going for a touchdown. The play was actually called back because of a penalty, but to this day, Brandon doesn’t seem to have noticed and, as his father, Paul, put it, “Whether it counted or not, nobody cares.”
Legacy senior quarterback Colton Liddell, who has known Brandon since Vees came to the school in seventh grade, was the one who handed off the ball to him.
“It was great,” Liddell said. “He’d been telling us, he brings up a dream that he had where he scores a touchdown and Tim Tebow and his parents are all standing over there celebrating. We’ve been wanting him to get a touchdown for quite a while. That was a huge moment — it was extremely emotional.”
Brandon Vees’ career at Legacy isn’t over. The basketball team is 4-4 and improving after a rough start. However the season ends, though, thanks to the patience and understanding of the staff and players at Legacy, Brandon has had the opportunity to be an athlete — a win in itself.
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].