The best thing about Luke Terry winning this year's [BN]spired Award was that he didn't intend to inspire anyone. For 17 years, he has gone about his business without a left hand knowing no other way. He never fathomed the impact he made on others because he was focused on the business of winning.
Terry was determined to show off his athletic ability and never thought much about a disability he had since birth. The junior center fielder batted leadoff and hit .339 with 15 stolen bases for Williamsville North this season while playing in a very competitive division. His batting average was higher with one hand than most kids had with two.
OK, so where's the disability?
The idea that he plays baseball and basketball at a disadvantage doesn't come from him. It comes from people who viewed him from afar.
"I don't really look at it as a disability," said Terry, who will be honored with the [BN]spired Award at Wednesday night's Prep Talk Awards. "I've grown up competing my whole life so, for me, it's not really a big deal. I was so competitive and wanted to go out and win that it never crossed my mind that I was at a slight disadvantage compared to other people."
Terry catches and throws with his right hand, pinning his glove against his body with his left arm to throw the ball. He rests his shorter arm against the bat for stability when he hits before removing it on impact. Years of practice have given him a smooth stroke from the right side. He was hitting over .400 going into his final three games of the regular season.
In basketball, he catches with his right hand with help from his left arm. He uses his shorter arm to guide the ball into shooting position and releases the ball with one hand, which is the form of most good shooters. Terry came off the bench last season, mostly as a long-range shooting guard and sound defender.
His parents figured he would be play soccer when he was a young boy, but he quickly grew bored with the game. He played every sport with kids in the neighborhood. His problem with golf wasn't playing with one hand. It was his short temper, which flared when he hit poor shots. Join the club, kid.
Baseball always was his true passion. It was also his best sport despite his disadvantages, perceived or otherwise.
"Over time, that slight disadvantage didn't become a disadvantage anymore," he said. "It was a mindset. I would go out and play and forget about it. … If you have something holding you back, or something people would think is holding you back, just go out and do what you want to do. Just do it."
Every now and again, his parents need to remind themselves that they're supposed to be impressed when he hits a baseball into the gap or makes a three-pointer in hoops. Opposing coaches and parents from other teams have been astonished by the kid for years, but Luke's success is second nature to Mark and Julie Terry.
An older generation might remember Mark Terry, who played baseball for the University at Buffalo before the Bulls dropped the program in 1987 and later for Canisius College. He coached Little League for years at Lou Gehrig Baseball in Amherst and never made excuses for his son.
Still, he understood the difficulty of hitting a baseball, especially when the kids get stronger and start throwing breaking balls. Luke was a solid pitcher himself when he played junior varsity. He settled into the outfield this year on varsity, making the best use of his speed for a North team that finished 10-4 in its division.
"We see it all the time, so other people are amazed by it," Mark Terry said. "We're super proud of him. We're super proud of both of our kids. We're faithful people. We hope they have good character and try their best. And he does that. I just want him to be a good person in the end."
Luke, a friendly kid and a 90-plus average student, never wanted to attract attention for having a disability. Initially, he was disinterested in the [BN]spired award when he learned he was selected because he assumed it was similar to a participation trophy. And the very last thing he wanted from anyone was sympathy.
He didn't realize he evolved into a terrific player who led by example. He happens to play with one hand. It is inspiring, but the people who make him happiest are the ones who watch him play an entire game and fail to realize he's missing his hand. It validates his talent and reminds him he's just like the other kids.
"Here's the thing about Luke: You forget that he has any kind of disability," North coach Jerry Scarcella said. "You just don’t think of it because he doesn't call attention to it. He doesn't call attention to anything other than how he plays. You just forget. To me, that's inspiring. He's not looking for anything. He's just putting everything into it. He's a great teammate, a great kid."
By the way, if you want to do Terry a favor … don't do him any favors.
Many have tried and failed, starting with family and friends. When he was a younger boy, doctors encouraged him to use a prosthetic. He would slip the device over his forearm to pacify the medical staff during checkups and remove it before getting in the car for the ride home. To him, it was a nuisance and counterproductive.
Terry's parents paid extra money for driving lessons in which he learned to use a spinner, a knob that attaches to the steering wheel designed to make turns easier. He thought it was useless, junked it just before his road test and passed with flying colors. It has been his approach when it comes to just about anything."Name the hardest thing you could do," Mark Terry said. "If it looked like fun, he wanted to do it. He did everything. He was always busy, always running around. … It's just the way he is. He doesn't want to be limited. He doesn't want to be labeled that way. God bless him."
A few years ago, a parent from an opposing summer baseball team sent a letter about Terry to former major league pitcher Jim Abbott, who also had one hand and played 10 years in the big leagues. The two shared a passion for the same sport and continued playing through similar challenges.
Abbott sent back a package from his days with the Yankees. In included a letter of encouragement, his book and a cap. Terry held up Abbott, who threw a no-hitter in 1993, as an example of someone who never wavered from his dream. Never mind his disability. Abbott had an abundance of ability, and he was an inspiration to many.
"I definitely keep him in mind," Terry said. "He's pretty freaking impressive."
Don't you get it, Luke?
So are you.