By Bryan Boggiano
One Coral Springs kid has hit a hole-in-one with one of America’s famous magazines.
On November 23, Sports Illustrated named Carter Bonas as their SportsKid of the Year for his golf, business, and philanthropy accomplishments.
Sports Illustrated details the 11-year-old’s journey to the top and challenges he overcame to get there.
According to the magazine, Bonas was diagnosed with high-functioning Asperger’s Syndrome, a social and communication disability on the autism spectrum.
People with high-functioning autism spectrum disabilities show no significant intellectual disability, which is defined by having an IQ lower than 70.
They still may have challenges such as hypersensitivity to stimuli, difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication, repetitive behaviors and movements, and anxiety. They may have strengths like strong attention to detail, pattern recognition, and focus, according to Autism Speaks.
Bonas was diagnosed with autism when he was ten months old and did not speak until he was four. According to his profile story, he had difficulty adjusting socially when he started school, which made him prone to getting bullied.
He also has a diagnosis of dyslexia.
When he was eight, he told his principal that if he got bullied again, he would kill himself.
To help Bonas meet other kids, his mother, Thelma Tennie, and his stepfather, Eddie Tennie, tried to find a sport he would enjoy. Bonas ultimately chose golf because he loves being outside and remaining relaxed.
“I used to play contact sports, and it feels good that nobody is touching me or yelling at me, and I could just be in nature where I love to be,” he said.
Now, he has competed in over 15 tournaments and placed within the top five in multiple, according to the profile.
Bonas regularly practices at the Country Club of Coral Springs.
When he was ten, Bonas started Spectrum Golf, a clothing company that offers sensory-friendly sportswear.
Bonas speaks to students and community members about his story to encourage them when he is not on the course or working on his business.
“It just feels amazing that I can have such an impact,” he said. “When I was little, I thought I would have no impact on the world whatsoever, but now, I know I’m special, and I am special, and I do have an incredible impact.
Thelma Tennie said the interview with Sports Illustrated started as a profile story, and nobody knew it would result in Bonas receiving the high honor.
She stated Sports Illustrated called back after the interview, saying they selected Bonas for their SportsKid of the Year.
“Carter’s been in lots of magazines, so we thought it was just another magazine and interview,” she said. “It turned out to be a lot more.”
Her son’s achievement is not something Thelma would have imagined when Bonas was first diagnosed with autism.
Thelma was worried about what the future would have in store for him and became immediately determined to do what was best for Bonas.
“I wanted to put whatever I could put in place for him so he could have a successful future.”
When Bonas was four, Thelma began dating Eddie. They estimate at least half of their early “dates” were at Bonas’s speech, occupational, and physical therapy sessions, which he attended five days a week.
Eddie stated he had no experience dealing or socializing with anybody on the spectrum before meeting Thelma, so to him, Bonas seemed like what he would call an average child.
As he got to know Thelma and Bonas more, he started seeing the social cues and behavioral outbursts characteristic of autism.
“Carter’s actually been teaching me how to deal with him and [those on the] spectrum,” he said.
For parents of children who have been recently diagnosed with autism, Thelma strongly stressed the importance of early care and intervention.
“There’s such a dramatic change in the possibilities of [getting] as much early intervention as you can get,” she said. “If you don’t get a chance to start that soon, it just pushes the child’s potential back.”
Similarly, Eddie stated, “You can’t treat it by dismissing it.”
Thelma and Eddie also spoke about the importance of Bonas’s visibility for other children on the spectrum, especially black children.
They talked about a stigma in the black community around talking about certain health treatments and disabilities and the importance of visibility.
“For other little black boys and girls to see another black boy playing golf with autism, with a disability, embracing that disability, our hope is that whatever their [disability] may be, they will embrace that as well,” Thelma said.
Eddie stated he hopes people start having more conversations and reaching out to people like Thelma to get rid of the stigma.
“It gives exposure to his disability, not as something that is negatively impacting him, but something that people will look and see hope for their kids,” he said. “Hopefully, that stigma will begin to wane until everybody is able to talk about it.”
Throughout his journey, Thelma and Eddie said watching Bonas excel has been rewarding.
“It’s just amazing to see the leaps he’s been taking,” Eddie said.
They also expressed gratitude to the Coral Springs Country Club, the city commission, and the Coral Springs Coconut Creek Regional Chamber of Commerce for helping Bonas excel, attending his matches, and recognizing his business potential.
Both also commended Bonas’s coach, country club general manager Corey Henry, for his work with Bonas.
Henry stated he began coaching Bonas in 2020 after his original coach accepted a job elsewhere. After six lessons, Henry said he and Bonas became closer.
Like Thelma and Eddie, Henry stated that being part of Bonas’s journey has been rewarding.
“I love watching him grow as a person; that’s the best part of it,” Henry said.
Bonas himself knows that he has a story to tell, and he hopes to continue to be a source of inspiration to others.
He said, “It just feels really amazing that I can actually be a role model, and I’ll continue to be a good role model, no matter what.”
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- A University of Florida journalism graduate, Bryan is pursuing his masters in geosciences at Florida International University. He has a strong interest in weather, entertainment, and journalism.
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