Sports (and school) work magic on Barnum boy

The crisp metal twang echoed through the air as the bat made contact with the ball, sending it spiraling between second and third base. The look of pure determination cracked into a smile as the 9-year-old batter ran to first.

966506+autism Bryant 1 2C.jpg

The crisp metal twang echoed through the air as the bat made contact with the ball, sending it spiraling between second and third base. The look of pure determination cracked into a smile as the 9-year-old batter ran to first.

“Good hit, Bryant!”

The cheer came from an onlooker behind the chain-link fence at Moose Lake Elementary, where the Wrenshall-Carlton baseball team played the Hoffman Hardware team from Moose Lake Monday evening.

Bryant Magnuson - one of the top athletes on the team - has played for two years. He also plays basketball; three weeks ago he won a Grade 4-7 shooting contest in his basketball camp at St. Scholastica.

His accomplishments have not come easily, however. Bryant has struggled with autism and epilepsy for most of his life. When he was 3, he was placed on a ketogenic diet to better control his seizures (he had up to 25 per day), as none of his medications were working.


School wasn’t easy either.

“He struggled in the Barnum School District and it was harder for him to make friends,” said Bryant’s father, Brian Magnuson.

Although he’s overcome so much, the dark days seem to have passed. Bryant transferred to South Terrace Elementary in the Carlton School District last year, where he found his love for the game and the Autism Spectrum Disorder class (ASD).

“Basketball and baseball are really the only sports he can do. There’s no tackling, and there’s not much contact,” said Magnuson. “We’re so relieved he found something he really enjoys. Sports are his sanctuary.”

“I like baseball the best,” said Bryant with a grin after Monday’s game.

Since moving to Carlton, Bryant has flourished. His performance in school has improved significantly, and his dedication to sports has exposed him to a new outlet and, of course, it’s a great way to make friends.  

Through last year, South Terrace Elementary offered an ASD class that better helped children with autism to thrive in a classroom setting.

“Carlton cater[ed] much better to Bryant,” Magnuson explained. “He gets As, Bs, and Cs. He likes it better and he’s made a lot more friends. More schools should follow Carlton’s example.”


Bryant started in the ASD program last year, and with its help and structure has since begun the transition back into the regular classroom.

“The ASD class has really benefited Bryant, “Magnuson continued. “He’s in a setting with around eight to 10 kids, and they can better provide for his needs. Now he spends  a small portion of his time in ASD, while the majority of his learning takes place in the regular classroom.”

Understandably, many of the parents of ASD students at Carlton were unhappy when they learned the school was discontinuing the ASD program this year, which was part of the Northern Lights Special Education Cooperative (NLSEC).

South Terrace Principal Jen Larva said the reason for discontinuing the ASD classes wasn’t the program itself - it was a success - rather, it was the strain of staffing and other impacts on the culture of the small school.

“In the two years that we housed the [NLSEC] program, we had three different teachers,” Larva said, noting that teachers had to be highly qualified and have the new ASD licensure from the Minnesota Department of Education. “Additionally, the mental health needs of some of the kids are great and we just did not have the staff to support the growing number of kids in the program. (Some students were placed at Carlton by other schools so they could participate in the ASD class and programming.)

“In small school districts, staff have to wear many hats and take on many roles. We were creative and added additional support throughout the year, but I felt that a change was needed before we overworked some of our dedicated employees.”

Larva noted, however, that Bryant and others in the ASD program also benefit from the small classes at South Terrace and the school will still have a wide variety of sensory tools students can access throughout the day, such as a sensory swing, trampoline, fidgets and more.

On the bright side, Bryant has already benefitted from his time in the ASD program.


Last school year, Bryant was presented with the “Golden Rule Award,” which was given to him for his courtesy and kindness.

Outside of school, other changes have been made to help Bryant with his condition.

“His old diet wasn’t working anymore, so we put him on a modified Atkins plan,” said Magnuson. “He’s doing much better.”

Along with the diet, Bryant has to take ONFI, a drug used to treat seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

Other than sports, Bryant also participates in Pieces of the Puzzle (POP) Camp, which directly helps children with ASD to be socially active and engaged with one another.  

“There are still long days,” admitted Magnuson. “You can tell when he’s pushed to the limit. He gets restless when he’s overstimulated.”

Bryant has had some tough experiences in his 9 years, but when it gets to the end of the day, he’s a happy, spirited kid who makes you want to smile. With the help of his dedicated parents, sports and the Carlton School District, he’s overcome obstacles that some can’t even imagine.

What To Read Next
Fundraising is underway to move the giant ball of twine from the Highland, Wisconsin, home of creator James Frank Kotera, who died last month at age 75, 44 years after starting the big ball.