When Max Andress first became football coach at Columbus High School in 1951, he and his wife, Dolores, started a hangout for special-needs kids.

Max Andress coached the Bull Dogs for 21 years, winning a school-record 118 games. The football field at Columbus North is named after him.

Today, a half-century later, Andress’ grandson is carrying on his legacy both on and off that field. Triston Perry is in his third year as the starting quarterback for the Bull Dogs, who are 5-0 and ranked No. 5 in the state in Class 6A.

For his senior project, Perry is helping raise money for “Sidekicks,” a running club for people with special needs who are matched with other runners.

“I wanted to carry on (Andress’) … thinking,” Perry said.

The Sidekicks program started in June. After Perry saw them outside running, he wondered what it was and ended up asking his mother, Nancy Andress, about it.

Nancy put her son in contact with Celia Watts, the founder of Sidekicks. Watts’ 16-year-old son Randall has autism and has advanced from competing on the Unified track and field team at North to running 10K races now.

“He loves to run,” Celia Watts said. “We always had a problem finding people to run with him because he got too fast for me. So I created this group so we could meet new people that he could run with. Then, we thought there’s probably a lot of other kids in the same boat that want to run, want to go out, but maybe for whatever reason their family members can’t go with them. So we started it, and everybody seems to really love it.”

Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center was approached early in the summer about sponsoring the Sidekicks program.

The center’s community outreach coordinator, Diane Doup, is the godmother of one of the participants, and she was honored to be asked to sponsor the group.

“We just felt really strongly that it’s a wonderful opportunity for those with special needs to get exercise and to get to interact with folks and make new friends,” Doup said. “So not only do they get great exercise by running and walking, but we’ve all made new friends.”

When Perry found out that the Sidekicks program needed T-shirts and shoes for the special-needs kids and other operating costs, he had an idea to generate income. So he has solicited pledges for each touchdown pass he throws this season. Through five games, Perry has thrown 15 touchdown passes.

Monday night, Perry and teammates Mitchell Burton, Harley Huser and Hunter Huser surprised the Sidekicks group at the end of their weekly run. They distributed ice cream bars, signed shirts, played catch with miniature footballs with the kids and gave them invitations to Friday night’s homecoming game against Terre Haute North.

“It’s been nice for some of the kids to make new friends at school and have folks that eat lunch with them and not only interact with them at school, but watch out for them,” Doup said. “It’s such fun to see everybody having a good time.”

Doup said Sidekicks also has a walking component. She said of the program’s great successes is that a lot of the people who started walking have now started to run.

Ashley Hopkins, 15, likes the running the best.

“It’s awesome,” Hopkins said. “I get to meet new people.”

That’s also been the case for Blair Kuethe, a former swimmer at University of Kentucky who recently began working in marketing at Cummins.

“I run with Randall (Watts) every single week, so I’ve gotten to know him a little bit,” Kuethe said. “He’s kind of shy. It’s been fun.”

The group meets at 6:30 p.m. Mondays at White River Running Company on Fifth Street. Rocky and Brandi Legge, who own White River Running Company, have provided equipment and advice.

Laura Gilbert, a former North and Toledo University swimmer and now a triathlete, saw a message that the running company put on Facebook looking for volunteers to run with the “heroes.”

“We call them heroes,” Gilbert said. “You can tell that they love it.”

At a glance

Every touchdown pass that Triston Perry throws for Columbus North this season will benefit Sidekicks, a running/walking club for special needs teens and young adults and those who want to run or walk with them.

Perry, in cooperation with Lincoln Central Neighborhood Family Center, is seeking monetary donations for every touchdown pass he throws in a game this season. Those interested may donate per touchdown pass or sponsor an individual touchdown.

For more information, or to donate, contact Perry at perry.triston@yahoo.com or studiofit@comcast.net or call Lincoln Central Family Neighborhood Center at 812-379-1630.

Author photo
Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.