GREECE, N.Y. (Feb. 24) – Jason McElwain had done everything he was asked to do for the Greece Athena High School basketball team – keep the stats, run the clock, hand out water bottles.
That all changed last week for the team manager in the final home game of the season. The 17-year-old senior, who is autistic and usually sits on the bench in a white shirt and black tie, put on a uniform and entered the game with his team way ahead.
McElwain proceeded to hit six 3-point shots, finished with 20 points and was carried off the court on his teammates’ shoulders.
“I ended my career on the right note,” he told The Associated Press by phone Thursday. “I was really hotter than a pistol!”
McElwain, 5-foot-6, was considered too small to make the junior varsity, so he signed on as team manager. He took up the same role with the varsity, doing anything to stay near the sport he loves. Coach Jim Johnson was impressed with his dedication, and thought about suiting up McElwain for the home finale.
His performance was jaw-dropping: 20 points in four minutes, making 6-of-10 3-point shots. The crowd went wild.
“It was as touching as any moment I have ever had in sports,” Johnson told the Daily Messenger of Canandaigua.
McElwain didn’t begin speaking until he was 5. He lacked social skills but things got easier as he got older. He found many friends and made his way through school in this Rochester suburb, although many of his classes were limited to a half-dozen students. And he found basketball.
On the varsity, he never misses practice and is a jack-of-all-trades. “And he is happy to do it,” Johnson said. “He is such a great help and is well-liked by everyone on the team.”
Even though McElwain was in uniform for the Feb. 15 game, there was no guarantee he would play – Athena was battling for a division title.
The fans, however, came prepared. One section of students held up signs bearing his nickname “J-MAC” and cutouts of his face placed on Popsicle sticks.
The Trojans opened a large lead against the team from the nearby Spencerport. With four minutes left, McElwain took the court to deafening cheers.
The ball came to him almost right away. His 3-point shot sailed completely off course, and the coach wondered if he made the wrong move. McElwain then missed a layup. Yet his father, David, was unruffled.
“The thing about Jason is he isn’t afraid of anything,” he told the newspaper. “He doesn’t care what people think about him. He is his own person.”
On the next trip down the floor, McElwain got the ball again. This time he stroked a 3, all net. He was just warming up.
“As soon as the first shot went in that’s when I started to get going,” he said.
On the next attempt, he got another 3-pointer. Then another, and another. In fact, he would have made one more 3, but his foot was on the line, so he had to settle for 2 points.
Greece Athena won 79-43, and pandemonium reigned. McElwain signed autographs, posed for pictures and was hoisted by his teammates.
The Trojans begin sectional play Saturday and McElwain will be on the bench again, wearing his usual shirt and tie.
It doesn’t bother him. More important, he said, is “trying to win a sectional title for the team.”
McElwain will soon be done with high school basketball, then enroll in business management this fall at Monroe Community College.
“I’ll go on to college and I’ll try to hoop there,” he said. “I just love it, it’s one of the greatest sports in the world.”