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As a hand raises over his head, the thunderous applause from the student body overwhelms him. Freshman James Billings Sandefur—or JB for short— stood proudly on the stage in his PT Bar- num costume as the student body officers handed him his “Halloween cutest costume award.”
This is only one example portraying the friendly and outgoing nature of JB. Anyone who comes in contact with, or at least knows of him, is familiar with his extroverted presence.
“I love to tell funny jokes and make people laugh,” JB said.
JB will support and love every person he comes in contact with, and is an excel- lent person to have on your side.
“I like to go sit by good people and ask them how they are doing,” JB said.
JB has a disability known as Pervasive Developmental Disorder, not otherwise specified (PDDNOS), and moderate retardation. While there is no exact diagnosis for what he has, it affects his social abilities, and the way his brain works.
“[Technically] speaking he is a 15 year old in his body, but mentally he is a five year old,” said JB’s mother Jette Utley.
Sending a five year old to high school is cause for any parent to worry. JB’s parents reacted as expected, and they were initially worried about how their son would fare. However, a er meeting special education teacher Cami Hathaway, along with the students JB would be joining, their minds were quickly put at ease.
With the support of his parents, and the guidance of Hathaway, JB quickly learned how to thrive at NS, and even ended up becoming very involved in several different activities.
Despite the overwhelming support of teachers, his parents and the majority of the student body, a huge setback at the high school has been his peers’ misperceptions of JB and his disabilities. is resulted in some cases, large and small, of bullying.
“ ere is a certain amount of lack of understanding,” stepfather Erick Utley said.
When a family friend of the Utley’s, NS’s defensive coordinator Dave Peck heard of JB’s situation, he brought it to the captains of the football team, who decided to take JB under their collective wing.
“The football team came forward on their own, and it was beautiful. We appreciate that,” Erick Utley said.
The captains and coaches approached JB and asked him to become the team’s flag runner, and an honorary member.
“I got my own jersey, I got to go out there and run the flag and see D. Bob and all the football players,” JB said.
With the football team having his back, JB had a new group of friends and an increased acceptance of him throughout the school and community.
In addition to his involvement in the football program, JB also decided to be- come involved in the upcoming school musical “Newsies.”
His passion for musical theater stems from the recent show stopping musical “The Greatest Showman.” After watching actor Zac Efron perform, JB was inspired to do the same.
“I like to sing; I’ve been watching the Greatest Showman,” said JB.
While his involvement in school extracurriculars is considerable, JB also participates in a particularly time consuming hobby.
Many NS students earn their money by baking at Terrels, making sodas at Fizz or lifeguarding at the local pool. How- ever, JB makes his cash in a less conventional way.
JB has earned quite a bit of money by finding rare coins with his metal detector. While he doesn’t sell or spend them, he has earned around $1,200 just in coins he has found over the years
“I have found an Indian coin, a 1903 barber coin and a liberty headdress coin,” JB said.
No, he didn’t find a pot of gold, his fortune was built from years upon years of search.
Coins aren’t his only source of in- come, JB earns a penny per nail he finds. While that seems not worth the time it takes, he has earned $60 for his nail collection.
JB has been metal detecting for 2 years. Over the years he has found end- less amounts of coins, over a 1000 railroad spikes, a number of priceless pieces and even a rather large pure silver ring.
It’s safe to say JB is quite infatuated with coins and trains, part of his interest stems from some activities he would share with his late biological father James Randall Sandefur, who died at the age of 43 of brain cancer after an eight year battle when JB was 7 years old.
He remembers laying coins on train tracks with his biological father.
“We would lay on our coins [on the train track] and it squishes it and the coins turn out all squished,” JB said
JB has been fortunate to have three parents who have loved and cared for him. His parents wish to raise awareness of his disorder, for his peers to understand what it entails and how to be a friend to him.
JB feels extremely connected to every person he comes in contact with. All inter- actions, both positive and negative, have a profound effect on him.
“[His disorder] affects him when other people affect him” Jette Utley said.
At his center, JB is just like every other teenager: desperate to fit in, to have friends and to be loved.
“He will be your best friend, just be kind to him. He is a great friend to have,” Jette Utley said.