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Wow - what an inspiration!

February 24th, 2006 at 06:47 am

This has zero to do with money, but I am so inspired by this story! It brought tears to my eyes! I saw the story on tv (we ran it on our newscast today) but it's almost as good in print. It's long, but I promise it's worth it. Enjoy...

[quote]Four glorious minutes of basketball they'll never forget at Greece Athena.
February 24, 2006

My son called me not long after the game ended. He sounded out of breath, and I soon understood why. After witnessing perhaps the most compelling sports performance he will ever see at any level, he and scores of other Greece Athena students flooded the basketball court and hoisted Jason McElwain onto their shoulders.

"Dad, you wouldn't believe what happened," he shouted into his cell phone. "J-Mac got into the game and hit six 3-pointers. It was wild. It was like a scene out of a movie."

My son couldn't have been more excited if he had drained those 3's himself. He was hardly alone in his joy and incredulity. All it took was four minutes and change for one of the most popular kids in the school to shoot himself into our hearts and onto ESPN's SportsCenter.

In the nine days that have followed, the national media (ESPN, CNN Headline News' Prime News Tonight, Paul Harvey, Inside Edition, Good Morning America and the CBS Early Show, among others) have picked up on the story of J-Mac a story that could travel from a little gymnasium to the big screen.

Disney officials called Jason's parents, Dave and Debbie McElwain, on Thursday afternoon to inquire about the possibility of doing a movie.

And why not?

When it comes to drama and inspiration, Rudy has nothing on J-Mac. This is Rocky times six.

Hey, it isn't every day when a student manager with autism suits up for his first varsity game and scores 20 points.

It isn't every day when a school rallies around a special education student the way Athena has.

"I thought it might be a hard sell (with Hollywood) because people would think it was embellished," says Jim Johnson, the big-hearted Athena basketball coach who decided to give Jason a chance. "I'm glad I was wrong."

As Johnson prepares his team to host crosstown rival Arcadia in its Section V tournament opener tomorrow, he's still shaking his head in wonderment.

"I wake up each morning, asking myself, 'Did that really happen?'" he says. "'Did I really witness that?'"

They are questions many continue to ask. Even Jason, the engaging 17-year-old senior who hasn't allowed autism to undercut his dreams, is having a difficult time grasping the impact of his inspiring performance.

"That game went beyond what I ever expected," he says. "I felt like I had just won the national championship."

He may not have won a national championship, but he did win our hearts.

"I would have been happy with one point," he says. "I didn't expect to get hotter than a pistol."

A high-functioning autistic student, Jason has been forced to deal with the ostracism that special-needs children often face. There have even been road games this season when ignorant students have heckled him and made fun of him.

But students, teachers and administrators at Athena have come to love him. Jason has galvanized the student body. He has achieved almost cult-hero status at his school.

That love for him was never more obvious than during his shining basketball moment. The Athena cheering section, known as The Sixth Man, held up pictures of Jason that parent Jay Shelofsky had distributed before the game.

When Jason entered with 4:02 left, the students put the photos, which were affixed to paint-stirring sticks, in front of their faces and began chanting his name.

"I never sit during a game," Johnson says. "But when I saw that scene, I had to sit down because I was overcome with emotion. The tears were welling up big-time."

He was hardly alone.

After Jason hit the last of his 3's with two seconds to go, the students streamed onto the court and hoisted their improbable hero onto their shoulders.

"It was crazy, man," says Athena junior guard Terrance McCutchen. "Everybody wanted a piece of J-Mac."

They eventually carried him over to the stands, where he signed autographs for several minutes.

No one was more moved than Jason's mom, who with a minute remaining came down from the stands and planted a kiss on Johnson's tear-streaked cheek.

"Thank you," she told him.

Later, McElwain told reporters that the barriers her son faced had been torn down.

"This was his Berlin Wall tumbling to the ground," she says. "For the first time in his life he got an opportunity to be in the spotlight, and it couldn't have been brighter."

The seed for this unforgettable night was planted three years ago, when, as a sophomore, Jason dressed for a junior varsity game. He was fouled on a 3-point attempt and wound up sinking all three free throws.

At the banquet after that season, Jason received a plaque acknowledging him as the most accurate free-throw shooter in school history.

"He ate that up," says Johnson.

After cutting Jason before the season, Johnson asked the young man to stay on as manager and hinted that he might get an opportunity to suit up for a game. Before the Athena home finale on Feb. 15, Johnson told Spencerport coach Josh Harter that he might try to get "a special ed kid" some playing time on Senior Night, and Harter was all for it.

Jason was so excited when Johnson motioned for him to enter the game that the manager-turned-player had to be reminded to report to the scorer's table.

His varsity debut did not begin auspiciously. He tossed up an airball from the corner on his first shot, then barely missed a running one-hander.

"I groaned and put my head in my hands," Johnson recalls. "I said, 'Please, God, let him score.'" The next time Athena brought the ball down the floor, Johnson's prayers were answered. Swish. Nothing but net. The crowd went wild.

Little did anyone know that Jason was merely warming up.

"He turned into a machine," says reserve center Brian Benson, who was on the floor for Jason's heroics. "It wasn't just one. It wasn't just two. It wasn't just three ... he was on fire."

And his teammates were only too pleased to keep feeding him the ball.

"We weren't even looking to shoot," says McCutchen, who assisted on five of Jason's baskets. "Jason had sacrificed so much for us as a manager. We wanted him to have a night where he could shine."

It should be noted that, unlike other publicized incidents involving special-needs athletes playing varsity sports, Spencerport did not sit back and allow Jason to score.

"They may not have been all over him on defense, but for the most part they tried to keep him outside," says Devin DePoint, a junior forward for Athena who also was out there during Jason's scoring barrage. "The bottom line is that he still had to put the ball through the basket from beyond the arc."

DePoint says he could sense something special was unfolding as soon as they took the court for warm-ups.

"I knew he could shoot, but wow," he says. "We did whatever we could to get him the ball. We knew it was his one chance. We wanted him to have a good memory that he could carry for the rest of his life. We wanted to make it something he would remember."

As he returns to his role as student manager, Jason will remember this game, all right. And so will his teammates, his coaches and the student cheering section that has embraced him.

"It just goes to show that if you keep working hard, good things will happen to you," Benson says. "J-Mac works his butt off every day in practice, every game. It was nice to see him get a night where he could be a hero." His coaches, teammates and fans gave him a present, and he reciprocated.

"Those are four minutes," McCutchen says, "that I'll never, ever forget." Four minutes that one day may be immortalized by Disney. [/quote]

credit - written by Scott Pitoniak and printed in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

2 Responses to “Wow - what an inspiration!”

  1. kristina moffitt Says:

    this brought tears to my eyes and helped me realize what a great life i have on a day when i am just to frustrated to believe.

    thank you for this!

  2. Devin Says:

    Hello, I saw your site while searching for my buddy J-Mac on google....i appreciate your support...I was on the court with him when this happened and i am so happy with the nationwide response

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