Inspired by coach's son, Western Branch raises autism awareness

Posted at 7:10 PM, Mar 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-24 22:46:21-04

CHESAPEAKE, VA (WTKR)- If you happen to attend a Western Branch baseball game, you may see 13-year old Nathan Wright checking out the action. He's the son of Bruins' head coach Roland Wright and his older brothers, Joshua and Jake, are sophomores on the team.

"He keeps our family together," Josh, the Bruins' shortstop, said of his younger brother. "He helps us get our moods up after a bad practice or a bad game. He brings us up. He keeps us going."

"He's my zen to my world," added Roland. "No matter what happens here, when I go home he doesn't know if we won or lost, so to be honest my wife and I are the lucky ones."

Nathan's childhood is a bit different than that of his siblings. The younger Wright is autistic.

"We just have to be a little more patient with him," Roland said. "He's as normal to us as my twin sons."

Coach Wright and his wife, Sarah, who is the head coach of the Western Branch softball team, wanted to raise awareness and help educate others about autism. For a baseball and softball family, what better way to do so than on the diamond? That hope of helping others led to the Bruins' Autism Awareness games. It began as a softball game sparked by Sarah in 2016.

"Nathan spent a lot of time around our team," she noted. "It was just important for me to get the girls and our programs to learn a little more about him and the life of someone with autism."

"[The] year after that I asked her if I could expand it to the baseball area and she graciously allowed me to," recalled Roland.

"It means a lot for people to see our perspective from it and just see where we're coming from and spread just spread awareness for it," added Jake Wright, Roland's brother and an outfielder for the Bruins.

The games have taken place annually since and have been positive, not just for the community, but for the Bruins themselves. Many of the players didn't know much about the condition prior to meeting Nathan and it's helped them see a different perspective. Now all of them feel like a big brother of sorts to the younger Wright.

"He comes out sometimes to the field," said senior first baseman Hunter Johnson. "He came on the field one time with us. It was just really fun to see what he's like and everything like that, very special."

"We feel like we have to protect him, play with him, stuff like that and just be a regular big brother," senior catcher Jackson Tone added.

Players also described Nathan as always smiling, joyful and a pleasure to be around, which is no surprise to the Wright family.

The idea of the Autism Awareness game has been a home run in the Hampton Roads baseball community. Several other teams will hold the themed contests during a stretch from April 5-9, coming together to support one of their own.

"My colleagues and coaches in the baseball community, we're a tight-knit group," Roland noted. "If you ask any of them when there's something that we need to honor, they're right on it, so it's humbling to me."

"For Roland to connect with all the coaches and have them support him because it is so near and dear to our hearts, it just really means a lot," said Sarah.

Western Branch will continue to hold the Autism Awareness games and those involved hope that the community will open their minds to learning more about a group of people who might need a little bit more support.

"We have to understand them and just accept them and just be joyful around them no matter what," Johnson said of what he hopes people will take away from the effort.

"If people are just aware of the needs that this community has and how special it really is, I think they'll see a whole new side of the world," Roland said.

The Western Branch baseball and softball Autism Awareness games will take place on April 5, with both squads facing King's Fork. The softball game gets going at 5:30 PM and first pitch for the baseball contest is set for 5:45 PM.

According to the Center for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated one in 44 children in the United States. To learn more about the condition, click here.