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Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Autistic Carrollwood student wins speech contest

CARROLLWOOD - Jerry Rodriguez used to be part of the Boys Club at Morning Star Catholic School.
Not any more. When he won the Modern Woodmen of America speech contest at the end of March, he and his classmates celebrated and changed the name of the group to the Gentlemen’s Club.
Jerry is a sixth-grader at the Catholic school that deals with students with special needs. He is learning disabled and undergoes speech therapy, but when he finished his speech, there were plenty of tears, none more than those shed by his mother.
The contestants had to write and recite a speech on “people who overcome.” Jerry and many of the other students came up with famous people who were able to overcome adversity, but Jerry, encouraged by his teacher, Alini Lopez, decided to go a different route. His sister, Mariana, has only one hand. She’s been dealing with that her whole life, but still plays soccer, swims and provides inspiration to Jerry, who is two years younger. 
“She has to deal with a lot,” Jerry said. “A lot of people make fun of her, but she never wants to ask for help. I know that she is smart and courageous.”
Despite the handicap, Mariana wants to be an artist. Jerry said he looks up to her and his sister was the ideal subject for his speech.
Jerry has some difficulties with speaking, but when it came time to give his speech, he nailed it, just like his hero, Tiger Woods nails it when the pressure is on.
“I was so proud,” Jerry said. “My mother was crying and all the kids in my class were happy for me. I felt like I accomplished something great.”
Lopez said she helped, but Jerry wrote the speech. Most of the children wanted to write about author J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, so Jerry’s speech was something special.
“He wanted to write about somebody special with a physical disability and he wanted to write about some other people, but we talked and his sister was the obvious choice,” Lopez said. “He set out to do it and put in everything he had.”
Jerry gets mostly A’s and B’s at Morning Star and said he can overcome anything if he tries. He wants to be a golfer like Woods and practices whenever he can with the First Tee organization that works with underprivileged kids.
He found out he won first place when it was announced over the intercom at school.
“I was so proud,” Jerry said. “Everyone congratulated me and it was a real big day. My mother cried.”
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