Sports are about more than smack talk and cheering on your favorite team. It garners a sense of community between people; it’s about overcoming insurmountable odds, and pushing past your limitations. There are defining moments when games seem to make the world around you stop-one of those moments happened in 2006 at Greece Athena High School.
Jason McElwain, also referred to as J-Mac, was born with autism. Early on, his mother knew something was wrong, but it took three years before he was diagnosed with autism. He faced many developmental challenges during his childhood, including not speaking until he was five and not chewing food until he was six. Despite these challenges, Jason grew to love sports and basketball soon became his favorite.
Practicing day and night, J-Mac prepared to try out for Greece Athena’s basketball team during his freshman year of high school. He was still small and wiry, so he never quite made the cut. However, after his mother called the school, they gave him the special position as student manager.
Jason took his position very seriously and wore his suit and tie to games, was at every practice, and always practiced as if he was going to be playing in the game. Though he never made the team during his four years at high school, he was always dedicated and never stopped trying.
During the last game of his senior year, the coach surprised him with his own jersey and gave him the opportunity to be in the game. In the last four minutes, the coach called him out and J-Mac finally had his chance. He missed the first two shots he took, but after that he couldn’t be stopped. Jason ended up scoring 20 points in the last four minutes of the game! The school erupted and rallied around him to celebrate such a momentous moment. Everyone who was there can still remember the game like it was yesterday.
The heartwarming tale of a boy with autism who never gave up soon exploded into a national story. J-Mac went on to win the ESPY award for Best Moment in Sports, the Teen Choice Courage Award, and met countless iconic athletes such as Peyton Manning and Magic Johnson. Jason has become a shining example of overcoming obstacles. From a reclusive boy who refused to speak, Jason McElwain went on to do public speaking to encourage others with autism, wrote his own book, and has even run the Boston Marathon.
Jason isn’t just a great example for others with autism; he’s an example for everyone. Working hard is the secret of success for all of us, and we have the ability to push past challenges to reach our goals. We may never have a “big game” like Jason McElwain, but we have the opportunity to not let the “no’s” and “that’s impossible” keep us down.