Shawn Lee has had a lot of firsts this past year.
The 19-year-old student was part of the Battery Creek High School baseball team. He asked a girl to prom, and he felt comfortable enough to make new friends at school.
While these are typical rites of passage for a boy in high school, they mean much more for Lee and his family. So much so that the progress he has made may allow them to embark on their first vacation.
Lee has moderate autism, cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder. When he wasn't in school, he preferred being at home alone, watching television, reading the newspaper and caring for his collection of wristwatches above all else.
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But for the first time, likely attributed to him being on the baseball team, he wants to get out of the house.
It all started when the Battery Creek baseball coach, Shawn Morrison, reached out to Lee's mother, Melina Lee, and asked if her son would be interested in joining the baseball team as their ball boy for the 2013-14 season.
Melina Lee decided they would give it a try. That first day, when she brought her son out to the field, she expected to have to stay in the dugout to help him, but immediately the guys on the team took him in and showed him what to do, she said.
After joining the team, Lee began making friends, and from there his self-confidence and social skills began to grow.
"They made me feel excited to help with the baseball team," Lee said about the players.
Lee began talking to his teammates in the school hallway instead of just keeping to himself. The ballplayers did the same.
"He will actually knock somebody down to get to one of those guys if they call him," said Linda Aragon, one of his teachers. "Usually they ask him, 'Are you going to the game tonight?' or 'What watch do you have on?' They really know how to engage him, and I almost have to pull him away."
Lee began making friends with students not on the team. He broke so far out of his comfort zone that for the first time -- after attending the prom with his mother for two years -- he asked a girl to attend the Cinderella Fella Ball, a dance for special needs students and adults.
"I never saw him dance before, and he danced a lot," Aragon said, "Really his mom was a spectator."
The guys on the team say they learned just as much from Shawn as he did from them. "Most of the guys on the team had never spent a lot of time with special needs students, and having Shawn in the dugout helped them learn how to interact with those students," Morrison said. "It didn't matter whether we were winning or losing, he was there to bring the energy level."
Baseball season may be over for the year, but Lee is already looking forward to the fall. He plans to join the football team.
"I recommend to any coach to include a special needs student on their team. He made a positive impact on the guys on the team," Morrison said.