Sunday, March 28, 2010

How Four Minutes Changed Jason McElwain's Life

Maybe you saw this one. You probably did, but every time I watch it, I am inspired once again.

Jason McElwain, a young man diagnosed with autism, loved basketball. He loved it so much that his Greece Athena High School coach, Jim Johnson, agreed to allow Jason to join the a team manager. It wasn't until the last game of the season, the division championship, that Coach Johnson suggested Jason suit up and sit on the bench. Jason was thrilled.

I work at a school with autistic kids. I have gotten to know a few of them. If you know anything about autism, you know that autistic kids have an extremely tough time responding appropriately to people. They have a tough time playing and cooperating with other kids and, consequently, do not make many friends. The ones I have taught will sometimes burst out crying for no apparent reason. Temper tantrums are common. Many cower at everyday noises, bright lights or a gentle touch.

That may be why Jason was never given the chance to be part of the Athena basketball team. That and the fact that even by his own admission, Jason McElwain was not a remarkable basketball player. So, with a pretty safe 20-point lead, Johnson decided to do something that would change the course of his life and the life of his young player. In fact, the impact, he would later learn, would be phenomenal. Coach Johnson decided to send Jason McElwain into the game with 4:19 to go.

Jason promptly showed why he had been team manager. He missed his first two shots, the first an air-ball and the second and easy layup. Johnson felt so bad that he buried his head in his hands and prayed for God's help. God must have heard and liked, no scratch that, LOVED his request. How do I know? Jason made the next three shots, all three-pointers, and the crowd went wild, absolutely berserk. Then he hit three more, along with a two-point shot. In just barely 4 minutes and 20 points later, Jason became his team's high scorer and the instant hero, not only at his little school, but world-wide. Maybe you saw him on Oprah or with then President George Bush. Maybe you've seen him with Magic, or with one on the NBA stars, or with Indianapolis Colts quarterback, Payton Manning. Everyone, it seems, likes hanging out with a sensation, even the stars themselves.

So, you may wonder, what ever happened to Jason McElwain. Four years have passed and everyone agrees, Jason has grown more confident, more sure of himself. Interesting enough, Jason says, as reported by CBS Evening News, it was not the shots in that game that made all the difference, but the acceptance and support he felt that night.

I think you'll applaud him too when you watch the clip embedded below.

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