Archive for Thursday, March 2, 2006

Opinion: When dreams come true

March 2, 2006

I generally like to keep my columns local, but every once in awhile I come across a story that reminds me of why I really love sports and why writing about them is important.

Jason McElwain's story is definitely one of them.

McElwain is a senior at Greece Athena High School, near Rochester, New York. He's also a special-ed student classified as "high-functioning autistic."

What does that mean?

Well, according to McElwain, it doesn't mean much. He says he's just like everyone else, does the same things that "normal" people do. But that's not quite true. On a very special night in February, McElwain did much more than most normal people will ever do on a basketball court.

Standing 5-feet-6-inches tall, McElwain has been Athena's equipment manager ever since he was cut from the junior varsity basketball squad back in his sophomore year.

During that time he says his job has just been to "get the team motivated, hand out water and be enthusiastic." But, like everyone who loves basketball, he dreamed of much more. In his dreams he was Michael Jordan, hanging for the winning shot over Craig Ehlo. He was Christian Laettner, burying a turnaround at the buzzer in the NCAA tournament.

In February Athena's coach, Jimmy Johnson, told McElwain he'd get to live part of that dream. Johnson told his manager he'd be able to suit up for their last home game, Senior Night, but couldn't promise him he'd get in the game. No matter; when word got around, McElwain's schoolmates showed up to the gym en masse, many carrying signs with his picture.

With four minutes left in the game Athena was up big and Johnson decided to put McElwain in. It was then that everything started to get surreal. When McElwain jumped up and sprinted to the scorer's table, the crowd absolutely exploded. The reaction was so strong that Johnson had to sit down and put his hands over his face to try and hide the tears.

Everyone wanted to see McElwain score and his teammates kept feeding him the ball. His first shot, a three-pointer from the corner, was an airball, off by a ton. His second shot was closer, but also missed. Then came his fateful third shot, another three, that this time swished through the net, totally pure.

But McElwain wasn't done. His teammates kept feeding him and he kept firing. Shot after shot swished through, each one more emotional than the last. The crowd was on its feet, cheering thunderously, and Athena's starters were up off the bench, dancing around like madmen. Johnson was still crying.

Jason McElwain made seven of the 12 shots he took that night, including six three-pointers. The 5-foot-6 equipment manager set a school record for scoring in a quarter. In his only varsity game he finished as the top scorer, with 20 points.

His last shot was a 25-foot three at the buzzer that went down clean as a whistle.

His euphoric classmates streamed onto the court, lifted him on their shoulders and carried him off the floor.

For one night in February everything was right with the world, there was justice in the universe and dreams did come true.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.