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    GRANT MCGALLIARD | HOOD COUNTY NEWS BROTHERLY LOVE: Senior pitcher Easton Turnage is one of three players in the Granbury baseball program that has a younger brother diagnosed with autism. Turnage’s brother Cooper, along with Hunter Seybert’s brother

A piece of the puzzle

Pirate baseball team is playing for something more
Saturday, March 16, 2019

When the Granbury Pirates run out onto Tidwell Field for home games this season, they’re not sporting a G on the front of their ballcaps. There’s no Pirate logo, no GHS insignia.

What there is instead is a multicolored puzzle piece, the universal signal for autism awareness.

Three members of the Pirate baseball program – senior Easton Turnage, sophomore Hunter Seybert and freshman Kaleb Saunders – have younger brothers that have been diagnosed with a form of autism. The developmental disorder affects 1 in 59 children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

There are many subtypes along the autism spectrum, and the disorder affects different people in different ways.

“It’s not that they’re not great kids that don’t have special talents,” Granbury head coach Brad Eppler said, “but they have obstacles to overcome, and have overcome, and will continue for their whole lives.”

Granbury’s senior players unanimously voted to put the puzzle piece on the front of the varsity home caps to honor Cooper Turnage, Coy Seybert, Kasen Saunders and all children diagnosed with autism.

WHO THEY’RE PLAYING FOR

Cooper Turnage was diagnosed when he was around 10 years old, his brother Easton said. Cooper, now in high school, has been a fixture at Granbury games since his older brother Kade was on the team.

“We didn’t really know what was going on, but we noticed he was slower in school,” Easton said. “You couldn’t tell just by meeting him and talking to him. We got him tested, and ... it’s been different since then, but at the same time, he does all the stuff normal kids do, fishes, plays baseball. He’s a cool kid. Loves to fish.”

Kaleb Saunders’ brother Kasen was diagnosed when he was around kindergarten age. Now he’s 13, and he’s found his niche.

“He’s at Lake Pointe (Academy, in Granbury), and he’s been there for about four years now, where he’s been doing much better than he ever did since he’s been getting the right teaching that he needs,” Kaleb said.

Hunter Seybert’s brother Coy, 6, was diagnosed at the age of 2.

“When he was in Pre-K, he was at Mambrino, and they had an autism class, and he excelled in it,” Seybert said. “Now he’s in regular first grade, excelling like crazy. We’ve had incidents, but you’ve got to expect that.”

WHAT CAN I GIVE?

The idea of putting the puzzle piece on the hats stemmed from the Pirates’ offseason program called Apogee, a series of lessons that deals with everything from handling adversity to psychology tests to athletic coping skills. One of the lessons was entitled “What Can I Give?”

“The concept behind that is that oftentimes players, once the season starts, will come into a coach’s office

and say ‘coach, I’m not

getting to play,’ or

‘coach, I’m not getting

the at-bats I want,’”

Eppler said. “So as opposed to that, the question is asked, ‘Well, what can you give?’”

From that, the team decided to do something “a little bit different” with their hat design and choose a cause for which to raise awareness, Eppler said. Other choices included wildfires in New Mexico and Arizona and hurricane relief efforts in the Southeast, but the team realized they had a cause worth fighting for closer to home.

“One of the things that we do, and we’ve done in the past, is we’ll go out and we’ll help at Miracle League,” Eppler said, which is a program in Granbury that allows children with developmental or physical disorders to play baseball. The team thought of Turnage, Seybert and Saunders, and the “What Can I Give concept carried into that,” Eppler said.

“It was just perfect,” he said.

Easton Turnage was part of the six seniors that voted to put the puzzle piece on the front of the hat.

“It was a group decision, and we wanted to give back to the community, put us in the background and something else in the forefront,” Turnage said. “By doing this, we’re showing that our needs are less important than other people’s in the world.”

The coaches made sure the idea was okay with the parents of the brothers they were honoring before releasing the design to the rest of the team and the public, but Seybert said he found out early and had to keep the secret.

“OUR MOST IMPORTANT PIECE”: The Granbury Pirate baseball team has taken inspiration from the puzzle piece symbolizing autism awareness on the front of their caps. GHS head coach Brad Eppler said the hats are Granbury’s “most important piece.”

“I was the first one to know about the hats, because Coach was talking to another teacher about it and I was in his classroom,” Seybert said. “And I once I knew, I wanted to tell my mom, but I couldn’t. Coach told me I couldn’t tell anybody.”

FIGHTING TOGETHER

The results of the design have been threefold.

Firstly, the team is achieving its goal of spreading awareness. Eppler said catcher Ethan Current’s parents sported the hat in New York City and were complimented on it, and opposing teams have always noticed.

“We’ve played 16 games now,” Eppler said, “and in 16 games we’ve had 13 different opponents, and I’ve answered 13 different times, ‘Hey coach, what’s going on with your hat?’

“And our players have – not had to, but been allowed to answer that question in public. Small-town Gran-bury, that’s our piece.”

Granbury has sold the hats to raise funds for autism awareness, and the team will donate the money at the end of the year to a program to help continue the fight.

“My family, we’ve bought tons of the hats – people from out of state, out of the country bought them,” Seybert said. “Everyone loves what they’re doing with it.”

Secondly, Seybert and Saunders said, their teammates have learned to respect those diagnosed with autism.

“Before this, our team would make jokes about it,” Seybert said. “Me, personally, I did not like it. And last year I was a freshman, and people would (make jokes), and I’d tell them I had a brother with it, and they’d say, ‘Hey, don’t make me feel bad.’”

“Everybody did that, and I’d always be the one to tell them to stop,” Saunders said.

Seybert said the jokes have stopped since the team adopted the awareness cause.

The final benefit to the puzzle piece is an unintended side effect but is noticeable. The Pirates have become closer as a team thanks to finding a common cause to rally behind.

“It kind of takes some of the stress off playing to win,” Turnage said. “We’re playing for something better. Winning’s important, but I think winning for a cause is even better.

“The entire team has adopted it, the entire organization has adopted it.”

“We’re able to look at our hats, look at one another when things are wrong – because they will be,” Eppler said. “It’s not that bad, there is a tomorrow, there’s something bigger. We’re able to put that in front.

“That’s our most important piece.”

grant@hcnews.com | 817-573-7066, ext. 254

 

 

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