Jason McElwain, second from left, shakes hands with President George W. Bush in March 2006.
October 1, 1987 |
Rochester, New York, U.S.
|Education||Greece Athena High School|
|Home town||Greece, New York|
|Parent(s)||David and Debbie McElwain|
|Awards||ESPY Award for the Best Moment in Sports|
Jason McElwain, nicknamed "J-Mac", (born October 1, 1987) is an American high-functioning autistic amateur athlete, in both basketball and marathon, and public speaker. McElwain came to fame on national news, in 2006, when he played during a high school basketball game, and scored twenty points.
Jason McElwain was appointed as the manager of the Greece Athena High School by basketball coach Jim Johnson. On February 15, 2006, he played in a basketball game against Spencerport High School, for a division title. Greece Athena got a large lead, so Coach Johnson decided to let McElwain play in the last four minutes and nineteen seconds of the game. After initially missing two shots, McElwain made six three-point shots and one two-pointer, finishing with twenty points. After the final buzzer rang, the crowd dashed onto the court in celebration.
Jason McElwain was born on October 1, 1987, to David and Debbie McElwain, and was diagnosed with autism at the age of two years. Jason and his family lived in Greece, New York, a suburb of Rochester, New York. He initially struggled when interacting with other children, but began to develop social skills as he grew older. Although he was placed in special education classes, McElwain enjoyed basketball, to which he was introduced by his older brother Josh, and was appointed manager of Greece Athena High School's varsity basketball team.
February 15, 2006 basketball game
Greece Athena High School basketball coach Jim Johnson decided to add McElwain to the roster for the team's February 15 game against Spencerport High School, so McElwain could be given a jersey and sit on the bench for the team's last home game of the season, and allow McElwain to play a few minutes if Greece Athena got a comfortable lead. With four minutes left in the game, Greece Athena had a double-digit lead, so Johnson decided to let McElwain play out the last minutes of the game. When teammates first passed the ball to McElwain he attempted a three-point shot and missed. McElwain got a second chance to score with a lay-up which he also missed. McElwain then got "hot as a pistol", sinking six three-pointers and one two-point shot, before the game ended. The final score was Greece Athena 79, Spencerport 43. As soon as the final buzzer rang, fans from the stands stormed the court in celebration.
McElwain's performance was videotaped by fellow Greece Athena student Marcus Luciano, who was substituting for the team's normal videographer. Before the game, Johnson gave Luciano strict instructions to track only the game formations. However, according to ESPN writer Elizabeth Merrill, Luciano "had a well-deserved reputation for breaking the rules"; when he saw McElwain make his first shot, he ignored Johnson's instructions and instead panned the crowd reaction to McElwain's performance. Johnson was initially angry, but soon changed his mind, calling Luciano's decision "a brilliant move".
Teacher Andy McCormack was in the audience that night to see the game. McCormack was Jason's Speech/Language Pathologist throughout high school, and the day after the game he got a copy of the video to local sports newscaster John Kucko who put it on the news that night. Others followed suit, and within days the tape reached a national audience. McCormack continued to support Jason over the next few months in school, helping coin alternative language expressions to his now-famous "hot as a pistol" phrase and helping him construct an introduction speech when Magic Johnson came to Greece Athena to speak to the student body.
In his hometown of Greece, New York, McElwain quickly became a celebrity. The family's home phone was always ringing, and when the McElwains went out for a meal, a group of fans ran into the family, praising Jason.
|But our country was captivated by your amazing story on the basketball court. I think it's a story of Coach Johnson's willingness to give a person a chance. It's a story of Dave and Debbie's deep love for their son, and it's a story of a young man who found his touch on the basketball court, which in turn, touched the hearts of citizens all across the country.|
|—President George W. Bush
(while talking about McElwain's twenty-point game)
McElwain met President George W. Bush on March 14, 2006, when Bush stopped by a nearby airport on his way to Canandaigua, New York, so he could meet McElwain. Standing next to McElwain, Bush told reporters "As you can see, a special person has greeted us at the airport, Jason", and then jokingly asked "Can I call you J-Mac?" Bush went on to praise McElwain, saying "Our country was captivated by an amazing story on the basketball court. It's the story of a young man who found his touch on the basketball court, which, in turn, touched the hearts of citizens all around the country." Bush also stated that upon seeing McElwain on television, he "wept, just like a lot of other people did". Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning visited Rochester, where he was introduced to McElwain. Manning invited McElwain and Steve Kerr, another Greece Athena High School athlete to the Colts' training camp for a week, which McElwain accepted. McElwain later said that Peyton was "one of the nicest guys in sports" and when the Colts won the Super Bowl and Manning raised the Vince Lombardi Trophy, McElwain "had a tear in [his] eye."
McElwain threw out the opening pitch for the Rochester Red Wings' game against the Charlotte Knights. The Red Wings also gave away 3,500 free bobblehead dolls that were modeled after McElwain.
McElwain won an ESPY Award for the Best Moment in Sports in 2006. McElwain beat out Kobe Bryant's 81-point-game and the George Mason Patriots' run to the Final Four. The speech that Jason gave upon winning the award was written for him by his older brother. The theme of the speech was about dreams coming true. In addition to the many celebrities McElwain met, he also appeared on various talk shows, including The Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, Good Morning America and Today.
In 2007, Topps trading cards produced a Jason McElwain card as part of its retro-themed Allen & Ginter set.
McElwain appeared on The Talk in April 2011 as part of the show's month-long series on autism awareness. He told the hosts he was head coach of the 17U East Coast Fusion AAU basketball team. His memorable video surfaced once more in 2011, when Facebook users shared a 2006 story featured on CBS Evening News. 
Jason had a song dedicated to him and his accomplishments on the court by an artist named Iron Butter. Jason also did several interviews and appeared at the Summerjam concert where his song was performed.
Following his rise to fame, Jason McElwain wrote a book titled The Game of My Life. The book is written mainly by Jason, but includes sections written by his family, coach, and teammates. The Game of My Life is 243 pages long and was published on February 5, 2008 by New American Library. Editorial reviews were left by celebrities such as Magic Johnson, Doug Flutie, Rodney Peete, Holly Robinson Peete, and Tony Dungy. The book was co-written by Daniel Paisner.
As early as late February 2006, Jason McElwain and his family started receiving inquiries from over twenty-five film companies, including The Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros., about making a film based on his story. In April 2006, it was announced that Columbia Pictures had bought the rights to produce the film. Laura Ziskin, producer of the Spider-Man film series, was signed on to produce the film about McElwain's life. Magic Johnson has also been attached as producer, while two-time Academy Award winner Alvin Sargent is in talks to write the film. However, there currently is no timetable for the movie as contracts are being finalized and the script is still being written.
Life after high school
McElwain completed his GED courses and planned to go to college, and has a part-time job at Wegmans Food Markets in Greece, New York. Jason is often seen, too, at the local Olympia Family Restaurant, in Greece, New York. Occasionally, customers recognize him and ask for an autograph. McElwain also travels across the United States to help raise funds for autism research and to make media appearances. With all the activity that is going on his life, Jason admitted that he hasn't been playing as much basketball, but says that, "Occasionally, I'll go and shoot baskets at the YMCA." McElwain is also involved in public speaking, including an October 2011 speech at the Jefferson Rehabilitation House's annual dinner. Since 2007, McElwain has also been a volunteer coach for the Greece Athena team alongside Johnson.
In April 2016, the Rochester Razorsharks, a professional minor-league basketball team, signed McElwain to a one-day contract for their regular season finale against the Western New York Thundersnow. With the Razorsharks leading by more than 40 points late in the game, McElwain was put in and scored 10 points, including 2 three-point shots.
McElwain is also an accomplished runner. On September 23, 2012, McElwain completed the MVP Health Care Rochester Marathon in 15th place in 3 hours, 1 minute and 41 seconds, a time that qualified him for the Boston Marathon. In 2014, he completed the Boston Marathon in 2:57.05.
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