Superhero battle will symbolize journey of Autism Stands

Autism Stands of Oil City is bringing local superheroes together for an epic battle of wits and agility to be played out Nov. 7 at Oil City High School.

Every superhero has an origin story, an account of events explaining how Peter Benjamin Parker of Queens became the Amazing Spider-Man or Steven Grant Rogers of Brooklyn became Captain America.

Each hero took a decisive step somewhere in that story that led the hero to become a champion for the greater good and those without a voice.

For Autism Stands, that step came when founder Brandy Hinojosa faced down the whispers and looks aimed at her and her daughter during her son’s baseball game and announced “she has autism.”

Another step came when she refused to accept a man’s apology for speaking ill of her daughter’s behavior that only came after her announcement.

“I probably shouldn’t have said it, but I get so mad I just don’t think,” Hinojosa said.

From that moment, Autism Stand’s origin story began.

The group held its first autism awareness walk in 2014. Then in 2017, Autism Stands slapped its first awareness stickers on Oil City Police Department patrol vehicles. The stickers were of Batman.

In fall 2018, the Franklin Police Department joined in with Superman stickers.

A theme evolved as more forces approached Hinojosa for stickers. Spider-Man for Sugarcreek police, Thor for the Venango County Sheriff’s Department, Captain America for the Oil City Fire Department and the Incredible Hulk for the Oil City municipal vehicles.

Once the theme formed, Hinojosa took it to the next level. Bring all those heroes together for one night of fun to bring the community together and raise autism awareness while they are at it.

And that’s how a superhero dodgeball battle at the Oil City High School gymnasium was born.

“I am so excited for this, I mean, a mixing of the superheroes? How fun is this going to be,” Hinojosa said.

For one night, the local heroes will mix together with famous ones in a battle to the last. The winner will be awarded a trophy and bragging rights.

“In my mind, I picture this being a huge event,” Hinojosa said.

Teams at the event, which will run from 6 to 8 p.m., will include the Venango County Sheriff’s Department, Franklin and Sugarcreek police, Franklin state police, Oil City Fire Department, local EMTs, the U.S. Army and Oil City teachers.

“Teachers are superheroes too,” Hinojosa pointed out.

Hinojosa said the event will benefit Autism Stands, but she ultimately wants it to stand for a community coming together to raise awareness and togetherness.

“It makes me so emotional thinking about it, (the teams) are doing it for free and they’re not expecting anything. I think it really shows that our community has something that nowhere else does,” she said.

When asked, Hinojosa said she never believed “in a million years” her group would expand to what it has become.

From her first awareness walk to now, Hinojosa said it has always been about listening to the autism community within the Venango County community and providing a voice and face for those who need it.

“I had no clue where it would go, but I dreamed it would someday get here. I kept up with it, even when it wasn’t doing well,” Hinojosa said, referencing a time when awareness walk participation had dwindled to the point it was canceled.

The event returned in 2017 and has continued to grow ever since.

The group has continued to branch out from just the walk in April, holding its first Halloween party for autistic children last fall and a car seat education course in August with the sheriff’s department.

The organization has also helped bring a sensory storytime geared toward autistic children to the Franklin and Oil City libraries.

The Halloween party will return this year on Oct. 26 in the Cranberry Mall and, Hinojosa said, the group is working to assemble sensory bags for emergency personnel to keep in their vehicles in case they encounter an autistic child at a scene.

As with any superhero, however, sometimes a team needs to be assembled. Hinojosa said the group is always looking for volunteers, particularly for the Halloween party and the Battle of the Superheroes.

Hinojosa said volunteer opportunities also exist for high school students looking for community service hours.

To volunteer, people can call Hinojosa at (814) 227-9544 or visit Autism Stands on Facebook.

“I feel like we’re finally starting to get somewhere,” said Hinojosa.