Avery Brooks (center) with fellow Madison County athlete Zach Wilhoite and coach Shane Leisure.

When Avery Brooks steps up to the bar to compete in powerlifting, all of his concerns melt away.

It’s just him and the weight.

As a 17-year-old Elwood High School student and Special Olympics Indiana state champion, Brooks has found comfort and community in the sport.

He enjoys powerlifting for himself, but it also has given him a commonality with other high school students that’s been difficult to find in his life.

“Special Olympics is what I can do because I don’t do a lot of sports in high school,” Brooks told The Anderson Herald Bulletin’s George Bremer. “But I can do it in the Special Olympics.”

In recognition of his success in sports and his commitment to others, Brooks was named the inaugural winner of the Jimmy Erskine Award last week during the seventh annual THB Sports Awards at Reardon Auditorium on Anderson University’s campus.

As a member of the Madison County delegation, Brooks won one gold medal and three silver medals in powerlifting at the Special Olympics Summer Games on June 7-9 in Terre Haute. He also won two gold medals in 2023.

It is that success along with Brooks’ dedication and generosity that earned him the award.

“Hard work, good sportsmanship, great teammate,” Madison County powerlifting coach Shane Leisure told Bremer. “Always wanting to work. Calls me all the time wanting to lift.

“He wants to go to nationals next year is in Minnesota. So we’re already gonna start working towards next year and just make this a year-round thing. And we’ve got a couple others (athletes) that are good enough to do the same thing.”

The award was presented by The Herald Bulletin and Anderson University in honor of Jimmy Erskine, a former Indiana Special Olympics athlete and son of former Major League Baseball pitcher Carl Erskine.

Carl Erskine was teammates with Jackie Robinson, helping the Dodgers win five National League pennants and the 1955 World Series.

Carl Erskine was born in Anderson, where he served as a revered baseball coach at Anderson College, a successful businessman, a philanthropist and a master of the harmonica. He also dedicated 40 years of his post-baseball career to supporting and promoting Special Olympics.

Jimmy Erskine was born with down syndrome. As Jimmy grew up, the Erskines realized there weren’t a lot of resources or opportunities for people with developmental disabilities. That led them to be part of the creation of the Hopewell Center in Anderson.

Erskine and his wife, Betty, also helped found the Madison County chapter and led fundraising efforts at the local, state and national level.

Jimmy Erskine died in 2023, and Carl Erskine died in April.