Catching up with Jason McElwain
A memorable performance on the court helped tear down autism stereotypes
It took four minutes for Jason McElwain to become a star.
Shaking off stereotypes that come with having autism, the Greece Athena (Rochester, N.Y.) team manager got his chance to enter a game on Feb. 15, 2006, and immediately felt "hot as a pistol." He drained six 3-pointers en route to 20 points in a performance that quickly went viral.
He garnered praise from President George W. Bush and Peyton Manning, among others. McElwain's scoring outburst was honored as the "Best Moment in Sports" at the ESPYs. More importantly, it opened numerous doors for McElwain to raise awareness about autism through speaking engagements, TV appearances and his book, "The Game of My Life."
McElwain looked back at his memorable game and talked about how it laid the foundation for his work with autism awareness and his dream to be a college coach.
ESPNHS: Looking back, what was the defining moment for you from that big game?
McElwain: Most people around the country don't know that I don't really care about points at all. We had one game to win to give us first place in the division. So the defining moment for me was that we won the game and I was part of that. We had a great senior class that I luckily got to graduate with, so for me it was like we had won the national championship.
ESPNHS: What did you learn most from the game?
McElwain: I learned that no matter what you put your mind to, if you set goals and put forth the effort, you can accomplish them. That season, I would put up 500 shots a day. I didn't know I was ever going to play until three days before the game, but I still shot 500 times a day. So I hope other people know that you can accomplish anything. Just don't give up.
ESPNHS: Obviously, the weeks and months after the game were a whirlwind with being on TV and meeting the president and celebrities. What was your favorite experience during all of that?
McElwain: I'd say going to the ESPYs and going to the NCAA Final Four in 2006. That really brought a new dream upon me of wanting to be a college coach. Just watching those games and being in that environment really got me into coaching. Working with the Indianapolis Colts as an equipment manager and going to the NBA Finals was cool, too.
McElwain: It's changed a lot to where I'm somebody who inspires others and they can look up to me as a role model and leader in that sense, and also be an inspiration to people with autism that they can still do anything. Rochester is such a small community, so most people already know you. But some people still come up and talk about the game or ask when the movie is coming out or can you sign the book.
ESPNHS: What's the biggest challenge in being an assistant coach?
McElwain: [Laughs.] Oh man, there are lots of challenges. The greatest thing is touching lives and being able to guide the players not only on the court but also pushing them to succeed off the court. The most frustrating thing is that after a win, sometimes there are 10 guys celebrating and then a few guys sagging their heads because they are frustrated about playing time. Those are what I call "me" guys. To be a successful team, you must keep the ego out.
ESPNHS: How important is to you now to use your platform to bring more awareness to autism?
McElwain: It's very important. People with disabilities deserve a chance to succeed. My advice, like Magic Johnson once said, "If you don't dream it, you can't become it." It's like trying to play perfect in basketball. You have to shake off all the mistakes and move on the next possession because the most important play is always the next one. In life, you're going to go through challenges and adversity, but you can't dwell on the sad times. You've got to focus on the next task and work hard at doing your best.
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