Among the horse ranches and hay bales of Dade City lives an unusual athlete who will always be 10 years old. Donnie Pitts is a mentally challenged student at Wiregrass Ranch High School in Wesley Chapel and competes in its Special Olympics program. During her pregnancy, Donnie's mother, Lisa, was in a car accident that caused her son to be born hypotonic, meaning he had less than normal muscle tone. During a grand mal seizure just before the age of 2, doctors were forced to inject Donnie with medicine that would stop the seizure. As Donnie stopped seizing, he also stopped breathing and had to be brought back to life. Doctors told his mother that Donnie would be in a wheelchair by age 4 and would probably never be able to communicate with anyone. Now 17, he's blossomed into a social butterfly at Wiregrass.
"He's surpassed all the expectations," Lisa Pitts said. "It's amazing because they told me that he wouldn't be able to do much, but he's a very good reader, he's good at math, he can hit a baseball and he can talk so much I can't shut him up. The people at Wiregrass have been amazing and accepting toward Donnie. Every day he makes his rounds in the cafeteria, and it means a lot to me to see him be accepted."
At 7, Donnie Pitts started participating in Challenger baseball in Hillsborough County, where the family lived at the time. The sport quickly became his favorite and led to future success with the Special Olympics. In November, Pitts and Wiregrass' Special Olympics team won the softball tournament at Disney's Wide World of Sports in Orlando and received a medal.
"I love baseball because it's the best sport," Pitts said. "It's an awesome feeling to catch the ball. I really enjoyed going to Disney and spending a night without my mom and dad at the hotel there."
Outside of baseball, Pitts also competes in cycling and basketball for the Special Olympics program at Wiregrass. His coach, Eshonda Swackard, has her own fond memories of him through their work together.
"When we did the Special Olympics basketball, Donnie made the winning shot," Swackard said. "It was funny because he started going the wrong way at first, but then he turned around and went up and made the shot. At first, he didn't realize that it was the winning shot, but when he realized it, he stopped and started yelling, 'I did it!' Then he broke out into this victory dance that he does."
While the Pitts family is elated with his success, they now enter a difficult time in their son's life as he nears the end of his schooling and prepares to take the next step in his life. Luckily, the social network they have built through organizations such as Special Olympics and Challenger baseball gives the family input from outside sources.
"He can only stay in school until he's 22, and because he can do a lot of things on his own, he'd like to live on his own," Pitts said. "The question for a lot of us in these organizations is 'What do we do now?' Donnie is so social, and that is important to him. Living at home he can't do what he wants to do. But where does a 22-year-old adult who is mentally only 10 years old spend the rest of his life?"
Submit feedback and story ideas to email@example.com.