Editor's note: This article was filed on Friday, Sept. 20, before the Knox High School homecoming football game.
KNOX -- When Theresa Catlett and her late husband Gary took their grandson Jared Holt into their home in 2013 he was 14 years old and weighed 37 pounds. Tonight he will run onto the field in full uniform with the undefeated and state ranked Knox High Football team for Homecoming!
I host a morning inspirational radio show on WKVI and Theresa joined me to share his remarkable story. Jared was born with Down Syndrome. He was raised in neglect, having lived in California and Virginia. His birth certificate does not even list a father. In June of 2013 Theresa and her husband Gary brought Jared and his brother Caleb to Starke County. After a six month trial, in December of 2013 they were granted custody. In February of 2014 Gary was diagnosed with cancer and he died in September of that year. The impact he made in their lives while he was hear was significant, though, and they still talk about their Grandpa. He was a veteran, having served in the U.S. Navy, and a longtime member of the North Judson American Legion and San Pierre Volunteer Fire Department.
Jared wouldn't make eye contact when they first got him. He was so thin at 37 pounds that his calf was as big as his thigh. Theresa could put her thumb and index finger around his leg.
"We didn't know if he was going to make it at first," Theresa told me today, "but there has been love and prayer and a lot of good nutrition and in six years he has grown a foot and is 96 pounds now."
Jared is 20 years old now and is a 12th grader. He is in the Life Skills classes at Knox. He has come SO far in the last six years. He had been written off by so many because of how they labeled him with Down Syndrome, but not Theresa or her late husband. He wasn't talking when they first got him, and she came to believe that he could not hear. It took her two years to convince others that he needed the same hearing test given to newborns because of his cognitive development. Theresa is a retired physician, who has a dogged determination.
They found he had a 45 decibel hearing loss. "That is huge," she told me. "We got him hearing aids at age 16. You don't overcome 16 years of grunting and making sounds like he has right away, but Jared has made so much progress!"
Theresa beams when she tells me about Jared. "He truly is an amazing young man," she said. "He teaches me about life every day. He has no agenda. All of us have agenda's, not him. He just wants everybody to be happy."
His brother Caleb has been with them the whole way. He is blessed with health and is involved and successful in so many things like the Starke County Blue Dolphins Swim Club and he makes straight A's. Jared doesn't have that path, but he has a bright future.
"I truly believe his is employable and can help organizations," Theresa told me with conviction. "He is in Vocational rehabilitation and I guarantee he will be an asset as a worker. He does not quit until he gets a job done. Our neighbor calls him to do moving and he does it exactly right after being shown once!" If you have or know of an organization that would like to hire this young man you can reach Theresa at 574 806-7708.
Theresa told me she can't go with him anywhere without people becoming happy when they see him because of his upbeat spirit. She said it is a tribute to the Knox community that he and his brother have been so accepted. "People here have been so good to them," she said.
At 20 years old, and having come so far, this is his senior year at Knox High. Theresa wants to make it the best senior year possible. Awhile back she started reaching out to Knox High head coach John Hendryx, one of the best and most experienced high school football coaches in Indiana. It took some time but when she got through to him she told him that ever since Jared came to Knox he loved Knox High football!
Would it be possible for him to dress for a game?
Hendryx, who last year received a special award, based on his modeling of the Marine Corps leadership values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment, was on board with it 100%. He said Jared would dress in full gear, take part in pregame locker room strategy talk, and run out with the team.
The Catlett's church, New Hope Baptist of Knox, is going to be tailgating at the stadium tonight. They all have made up shirts that read "Jared's Fan Club." He can come to the tailgate for a little bit but coach wants him in the locker room at 5:15 for pre game talk!
They may have to tear that jersey off him after the game, because this night means so much to him.