Blake takes it strong to the hoop

blake hodge1“That was a-mazing!” Blake Hodge said the words deliberately, with emphasis. It was clearly the most, well, amazing thing he’d ever seen in his life.

The 6-year-old’s basketball coach, Jeff Fife, had called a timeout to set up the play. Blake was on the high block left of the foul line. A teammate in the low block was to crash up toward him to set a pick and free Blake for an open look at the rim.

The play worked as designed, and Blake had his open look.

With his contacts in, he has 20-140 vision, a vast improvement over the 20-740 vision that he was born with.

“I didn’t know what to expect. I really didn’t expect him to make a basket in a game. And now he’s made a few baskets in games. He’s doing so much more than we expected,” said his mother, Tonya Hodge, who admitted being “worried” when Fife, the executive director of the Waynesboro Family YMCA, asked her last year if she’d consider letting her son play in the Y rec league.

“When he asked me, and when he said, Let me coach Blake, that convinced me,” Tonya Hodge said.

Fife had worked with Blake, a first-grader at Westwood Hills Elementary School in Waynesboro, last year in an adaptive-exercise program at the Y.

“The adaptive exercise program is a great way for kids to get some victories with some of the different athletics that they’re more able-bodied peers have that opportunity for,” Fife said.

“We could tell with Blake that his disability really wasn’t slowing him down too much. He was able to get some shots in, and he was able to follow the action. It looked like a natural transition that he could do. And he’s taken to it quite well,” Fife said.

Blake has progressed to the point where he can adapt when a play doesn’t work as expected, as was the case in a game at the Y last week. Fife had called for the same set play that Blake had scored on earlier in the season, but the inbounds pass sailed over his head. Retrieved by a teammate, Blake ended up with the ball on the low block and hit a nice bank shot from about five feet.

“Our first practice, our main goal with Blake was just to keep him on his feet,” Fife said. “He spent the entire practice just sliding across the floor. Because he didn’t have the confidence to just catch the ball.”

The approach: “We just simplifed things,” Fife said. “Just catch, just worry about catching, and now after you’ve caught it, let’s concentrate on getting a couple of dribbles in, and then we can worry about the shot. We’ve definitely seen an increase in self-confidence in him on the court. He really wants to get that ball.”

Mom couldn’t be prouder. Her oldest son, Marcus, plays in a competitive league at the Y, “and Blake just looks up to his brother so much, and wants to be like him, so this means a lot to him to be able to get out there and play like his brother,” Tonya Hodge said.

“It’s helped his self-esteem a lot,” Tonya Hodge said. “He knows he’s different. He’s been aware of that. But he’s going to do all the things that his friends do. He’s determined to be able to do that. Nothing seems to slow him down.”

Video: Blake Hodge scores a basket in a recent YMCA game (:21)

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