A two-time all-state forward who led Belleville West to the Class 4A state basketball championship in March, EJ Liddell, with the help of Gatorade, is giving back to a cause close to his heart.
Liddell was chosen as the Gatorade Illinois High School Player of the Year for the 2017-18 season. As part of the award, Gatorade has made a donation of $1,000 to Parent Teacher Organization for Exceptional Children. PTOEC, which serves persons in the metro-east area, provides, sport, recreation and social opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, primarily through Special Olympics.
The Special Olympics have special meaning to the Liddell family. Erica Liddell, the 21-year-old sister of EJ and oldest of four children, has cerebral palsy and has competed as a Special Olympics athlete.
“Erica was a Special Olympian, and like me, she wants to play all sports. She played volleyball and basketball. She wants to be really active like me and like my other brother and sister,’’ Liddell said.
“Special Olympics helped her do that .... She’s my biggest fan. Her and my family are the loudest people out there.’’
Also voted Mr. Basketball in Illinois after averaging 20.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 5.9 blocked shots and 2.8 assists for a Maroons team that finished 32-2 and won the school’s first state basketball championship, Liddell is ranked as one of the top high school players in the nation heading into the 2018-19 season.
As part of the award from Gatorade, Liddell and the Maroons basketball program received Gatorade sports drink, powder and towels in addition to the $1,000 donation given to the winning player’s choice of charity.
A banner also will be on the wall in the Maroons main gym.
Joe Harnar, of PTOEC, said the donation will be used to help purchase uniforms, help pay for transportation to sporting events and host social activities for the more than 140 athletes it serves. Harnar said the organization plans to recognize and thank Liddell, possibly at the sports banquet next month.
Liddell said he and his big sister are very close.
“Erica is a good athlete. My little brother and I will be out shooting hoops, and she comes out and joins right in,’’ Liddell said. “Me and my big sister, we’re really close. I’ve known she has had this condition her whole life, and it’s made us really close. She talks fine, and it’s not hard to understand her at all.”
Earlier this week, the University of Wisconsin Badgers became the 18th school to offer Liddell a scholarship. A perennial contender in the Big Ten, the Badgers join conference rivals Northwestern, Iowa, Illinois and Iowa, which have all extended scholarship offers to the Maroons’ two-time all-state forward.
Duke University reportedly is also now interested in Liddell.