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Autistic teen's 20-point night touches all

2/24/2006

GREECE, N.Y. -- 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!"

In recent days, McElwain's phone has hardly stopped ringing.
When his family went out for a meal, he was mobbed by well-wishers.
A neighborhood boy came by to get a basketball autographed.

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."