Friday, March 13, 2009

Autistic Team Winner

I missed this when it first aired. Here it is again in case you did too.

"McElwain, who is autistic, was back in his role as an all-around motivator on the eve of a sectional semifinal game Tuesday night — handing out water bottles, dispensing tips, helping run drills. Two weeks earlier, he suited up for a game and delivered a jaw-dropping performance.

In his team’s final home game of the season, McElwain entered with four minutes to go. It was his first and only appearance for the Athena varsity team in this Rochester suburb. The 5-foot-6 manager hit six 3-point shots and a 2-pointer and was carried off the court on his teammates’ shoulders.

His triumph was captured on a student video that made the rounds of the television networks. The school was besieged with calls and e-mails from parents of children who have autism, a little-understood developmental disorder.

“We have an obligation as a society to find a way to include people with different abilities,” said the school’s athletic director, Randolph Hutto, whose 12-year-old son, Joshua, is autistic. “This, hopefully, will help open doors for some people, or open some eyes.”

McElwain, who didn’t begin talking until he was 5, still lacks social skills but has learned to cope well in his teens, said his special-education teacher, Diane Maddock.

“He might talk a little loud, laugh a little too long or not be able the read the body language or even the tone of voice of a person, but it’s not a big difficulty,” Maddock said. “If you call him on it, he will acknowledge it, say ’OK, you’re right, I shouldn’t have said that or laughed when I laughed.”’

“This couldn’t happen to a nicer kid,” she added.

Considered too small to make the junior varsity, McElwain signed on as manager, then took up the same role with the varsity to stay near the sport he loves. Amazed at his dedication, coach Jim Johnson had him suit up for the home finale. There was no guarantee he would play — Athena was battling for a division title — but he got in when the Trojans opened a large lead.

“It was like a big old bucket and I was just hitting them like they were free throws,” McElwain said. “I just felt relaxed.”

The coach couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“He’s been my right-hand man, he’s there every day and just getting him the opportunity to suit up was emotional enough for me,” he said. “For him to come in and seize the moment like he did was certainly more than I ever expected. I was an emotional wreck.”

Associated Press updated 3:52 p.m. MT, Thurs., March. 2, 2006

1 comment:

Amanda said...

What a cool story. I hadn't even heard about this.
Thanks for commenting on my blog! I didn't realize you knew I had one! I tried to call you and visit you a couple of times last time I was in town and couldn't get a hold of you. Miss you!