Susan's Blog

Friday, February 24, 2006

J Mac’s Slam Dunk

Hooray for Jason McElwain! Imagine, being benched for an entire season, knowing you could play as good — if not better — than the rest of the kids. Then, surprise, surprise, you go on to sink 6 3-point shots at the end of the game. The very last game of your high school career. You go, Dude!

Why do you suppose J Mac was benched? Was it that he was autistic? Did some idiotic school administrator make this decision? Do you think???? I guess I didn’t realize that such idiocy was still legal in this country, but how naive am I? How did it slip past everyone that this kid was such a ringer?

My own Natty is the only one of my three sons interested in any sports. As I say at my talks, at least I have one normal boy! He is playing basketball with the Special Olympics and though he is no J Mac, he loves the game. He loves to throw the ball at other teammates’ heads; he loves to run in the wrong direction. It doesn’t matter. He is a quick stringbean of a boy and he is getting the chance to prove his mettle. Too bad it took so much longer for Jason McElwain, but better late than never!

J Mac, my new hero! A role model for Nat!


i know! i love that kid! i love the part about being late to all his classes because he kept being stopped by kids in the who wanted to congratulate him. hooray for your own natty!! go natty go!

— added by kyra on Friday, February 24, 2006 at 3:18 pm

Boo-yah! for J Mac.

I love that you refer to Nat as “at least one normal boy”. As I don’t “get” sports myself, perhaps Nat can be a role model to me too.

— added by Do'C on Friday, February 24, 2006 at 6:21 pm

Hi there!

I am a teacher in the district that Jason attends and also the cousin of Coach Johnson. I think you have a mosconception about this situation. What you need to understand is thatt this experience for Jason is truly a miracle. He is not a fantastic ball player that was benched because he is autistic. He has tried out for the team every year and has not made it because his basketball skills are just not that of a varsity basketball player. That is why this story is so inspirational. Here’s this kid who sticks around for 4 years as a water boy/manager simply because he loves to be involved and loves the game. When Coach Johnson put him in last Wednesday night, the team, the coach, Jason’s parents, everyone was just praying that he could make 1 basket. The fact that he made 6 3-pointers is a miracle. I don’t believe he could ever do it again. I believe that god gave him a chance to shine and an expereince that can carry him through the rest of his life with confidence and a continued love of being involved.Being a teacher myself, I have always and continue to be impressed by how kids with disabilities are treated by the other students and how the student body has taken these “special” kids under their wing. There was no “idiocy” at play here, just a school that cares very much about jason and allowed him to have a few moments in the spotlight, never dreaming that his few minutes in the game would be what they were. I mean let’s face it, our most accomplished NBA starts would have trouble pulling off what Jason did!!

— added by teachingreece on Sunday, February 26, 2006 at 10:38 am

I agree with “teachingreece.” I was at the game and have known Jason for 4 years now. It’s idiodic people like Susan, who were’nt there and don’t know Jason’s story, that run off at the mouth and make stupid remarks. get all the facts before opening your yap.

— added by Anonymous on Sunday, February 26, 2006 at 2:31 pm

Thanks for all the comments! Keep ’em coming.
TeachingGreece: you are right, I was not there, and therefore could not know every aspect/detail of that game. I am sorry to have implied any malice here. The only question that I continue to have is, how did everyone miss the fact that this kid was so talented? One 3-pointer, maybe even two, that would be a fluke. But six? I don’t think so. All I’m saying is, sometimes it is difficult for anyone, even the best of parents, teachers, coaches, etc., to see what another person is capable of. Bottom line: it is wonderful that Jason got the chance to show everyone.
Anonymous: I do not believe I said anything idiotic, but see apology and questions above. And thank you for reading. I agree that Jason did wonderfully and I am ecstatic for him, as I made clear in the blog post.

— added by Susan Senator on Sunday, February 26, 2006 at 2:42 pm

It’s a great story and it has evolved into a really big deal.

I was watching the NBA game yesterday and they mentioned it and showed part of the clip. The announcers were gushing all over the kid on national television!

This morning the story was featured on ESPN SportsCenter. That is the pinnacle for ANY athlete, in terms of media coverage, to have his exploits on SportsCenter. J Mac must be on cloud nine.

Susan, you gotta believe the kid caught lightning in a bottle. I think that’s the part you are missing.

I think that the administration and the coach should be praised for giving the young man his chance to shine. The fact that he took advantage of the opportunity in such a spectacular manner is what makes this story so incredible.

You go J MAC!

— added by Kudla on Monday, February 27, 2006 at 9:47 am

“The fact that he made 6 3-pointers is a miracle.”

Uh, nothing divine or miraculos about the physics and physiology of accomplishing this – regardless of a diagnosis, typcially demonstrated skills, etc.

— added by Do'C on Monday, February 27, 2006 at 12:29 pm

I played for Coach Johnson about 20 years ago. To imply that he may have kept J-Mac on the bench simply because he is autistic is way out of line. This is an opportunity to celebrate a kid who did an unbelievable amount with a small opportunity, and a Coach who was brave enough to give him a shot. I don’t understand why some people need to imply that there is an underlying conspiracy.

— added by Anonymous on Wednesday, March 1, 2006 at 10:56 pm

Shooting is only one aspect of what a basketball player does. You need to move without the ball, play defense, rebound, set and work through picks and lots of other stuff. From the tape it’s obvious he has a good outside shot but you would need to be good at all aspects of the game to make the team.

It’s great that those baskets unleashed all that pent up love but he earned all that because of his other work with the team, not because he was an awesome ball player.

If you want to understand the sports worlds reaction to this in some more context, I recommend the movie Rudy. The great story of Rudy Ruettiger, who was just too small to make the Notre Dame football team.

— added by Pete Lyons on Thursday, March 2, 2006 at 8:25 am

Susan — Your comment that one or two might be a fluke, but six could not possibly be… that is a gross over-simplification. It’s simply wrong to draw any conclusion at all about this without looking into how often this sort of thing does happen, and what the relationship — if any — is between between a particular player’s skill level (as demonstrated in long-term statistics) and the chances that it happens for that player! This sort of stuff has been studied extensively — and not just by crazed sports fans with an obsession for statistics. As part of a math class at an Ivy League school, I heard a lecture from a world-class professor on the probabilities involved in baseball hitting streaks — and a few years later that same professor published an article on basketball “hot hand” streaks.

The fact is that given enough trials, six in a row is going to happen for someone — and there are lots of trials going on all the time. We all heard about the results in this case because there’s a circumstance that makes it newsworthy, but we don’t hear about all the other kids who sink six shots in a row. It could be happening for some kid, somewhere, every single day… but it’s not newsworthy.

This was not a miracle, and it was also not a high-confidence indicator of the boy’s overall skill level. It’s a statistical inevitability that it will happen with enough trials by enough people with enough skill to deliver shots close enough to have a chance — so all we know is that this young fellow was good enough to deliver a series of shots close enough to the basket to have a chance. There most likely were, however, quite a fewkids in his school who weren’t on the team but who have that same level of ability,. This could have happened to them, too, but we never would have heard about it. It wouldn’t have meant that they should have been on the team or that the coach had something against them.

— added by Richard Schwartz on Thursday, March 2, 2006 at 9:54 am

Just to correct myself in the name of fairness: you did not say that six in a row could not possibly be a fluke. You only said that you “don’t think so”. It’s easy to think that, but statistics and probabilities are often counter-intuitive.

— added by Richard Schwartz on Thursday, March 2, 2006 at 1:13 pm

It’s funny how people get such different meanings and importances out of the same story. One person sees a self-defeating conspiracy of a bigoted high school basketball coach, another thinks angels guide basketballs into hoops for deserving children, another sees an opportunity to insultingly demonstrate inside knowledge of a situation, and a fourth doesn’t miss the opportunity to inform everyone that he took a class at an Ivy League college.

Funny. I got something totally different out of this story: positivity, passion and persistence pay off.

— added by D-Lee on Thursday, March 2, 2006 at 1:28 pm

I just want to be clear: above all else, J-Mac’s achievement is about passion and talent! There are peripheral issues that I have tried to raise, but I would feel ineffective if those became the crux of what I have said. Remember the final lines of the post: J-Mac, my new hero! That, of course, is the bottom line.

— added by Susan Senator on Thursday, March 2, 2006 at 1:44 pm

It’s ironic. I posted yesterday about how other people were missing the point, but I did so rudely and sarcastically, which was in itself missing the point. Here’s a kid who seems to have done one thing consistently for years: give positive feedback and motivation to others. And I respond “knowingly”, but with a negative tone.

The real irony is that I now am looking at a 17-year-old autistic kid and seeing what I personally lack. I am seriously asking myself, “What would J-Mac do?” That blows me away even more than hitting a bunch of 3-pointers.

— added by D-Lee on Friday, March 3, 2006 at 6:29 pm

This thing with J Mac is absolutely wonderful. Hooray for Coach Johnson who gave this kid the opportunity to play and show his stuff. There are other coaches that need to be almost bullied to put in kids that don’t get to play with any regularity if at all. Coach Johnson showed that he is aware of kid’s feelings and followed through on that. To my thinking he is a hero. Hooray for J Mac also. He sure has showed what stuff he is made of.

— added by C. S. on Saturday, March 4, 2006 at 10:34 am

To anonymous:

Wow, coach Johnson was brave enough to give the kid a chance to play! How is that bravery? Just curious. Do you mean that Jason may have embarrassed Coach Johnson and thus he was brave to stick him in the game? Or do you mean that Coach Johnson was brave for overcoming his own prejudice and that of the high school sports seen that would prevent a child like Jason from participating after 4 years of dedication?

As a former all state football player, I’m all too familiar with the “narrow” thinking of high school athletics.

If you want to know real bravery, it was a kid who made 6 3 pointers despite a life of taunting, teasing, bullying and low expectations. Try to live everyday with a disability and remain positive. Try to parent a child with a disability and have to suffer the ignorance and hatred of people who post anonymously about something they know nothing about.

— added by not my blg on Saturday, March 4, 2006 at 11:01 am

This is a story that has hit home for many people across the country for many reasons. For my family it has been a very emotional warm fuzzy feeling. Having a nephew who is autistic and always wondering what is in store for him in his later years. We all smile and hope parents across the country teach their children to understand disibilities that may cause children to not all be alike. If we do this as parents it will give many other children like Jason a chance to have a life as normal as possiable.
I feel Jason has been so fortunate to have had a wonderful school experience. The video shows how that school has “class”, the student body showed so much love and excitement for Jason as they poured out of the stands to be the first to congratulate him.

Jason you are the inspiration for me to keep praying my nephew can be as lucky as you to be accepted in this world we live in. May god continue to watch over you and I hope you share your struggles and accomplishments for the world to see.

— added by mmq-Orlando, Florida on Saturday, March 4, 2006 at 1:51 pm

Yeah its great that he hit all those shots but i dont see it as an inspiration, you can say that we won the lottery that day. Because if he could play like that in the first place he would have been on the team in the first place. Coach and the school used him for good PR and thats it, got his name and face on tv for using a loop hole in the system.

I call it poor sportsmanship and coaching when you blow out a team and let someone shoot the ball 13 times in less than four minutes!

Think about this what if the kid went out there and threw up 13 airballs would it still been inspirational or would everyone being upset for embarrassing him like a circus freak?

Rochester Native

— added by Anonymous on Monday, March 6, 2006 at 7:11 am

Just a few comments. As far as it being poor sportsmanship, the coach let the opposing coach know he might play him. If Spencerport’s coach had any reservations on him dressing the team manager, he would have reconsidered.

As far as taking 13 shots, I doubt it’s easy to tell him to take it easy during his opportunity. The team clearly fed him the ball when you watch the video. After badly missing his first shot (and the following two-point attempt), it’s pretty amazing he did what he did.

There were some unique circumstances. Athena played a struggling team that was out of the game. His players, being great teammates, were trying to give him every opportunity possible. But, I don’t think it really matters, and it’s never easy to hit shots from there.

On the whole, I see no reason to spin this into a negative. Johnson is a class act, he told his opponent about his plans, and this kid sunk shots at a rate NBA guys would struggle trying to match. J-Mac seems to be loving the publicity. He had 80 kids around him looking for autographs at the pro game he appeared at Sunday. He’s done a great job with the media. Many are grateful for the boost its given to autism awareness.

Oh, and, if he missed, I’m sure the tape wouldn’t have made its way around. There were no local crews at the game. I also am pretty sure he would have shot less, and they would have looked for a layup opportunity. But, what’s the point? Do you not give him the chance in case he misses? Regardless, that’s not how it worked, and it’s a great story that will soon make a wonderful movie. He seems like a great kid that’s worthy of this attention and then some.

— added by Anonymous on Tuesday, March 7, 2006 at 2:31 pm

Dear Readers –
You are all welcome to post diverse opinions here, but if they attack someone else viscerally, I will remove them. I never mind a good debate, but debate is about making skilled arguments, not slinging mud. I do not believe in censorship, but I do believe in civility.

— added by Susan Senator on Saturday, March 11, 2006 at 11:16 am

I agree with Pete. And I can speak from both sides. I have a 10 year old son, Joshua, diagnosed with autism….who is obsessed with basketball and can shoot a basketball and make it every time, without even looking. When you love and practice enough at something, you become good at it, as I feel sure is the case with Jason. You can analyze statistics all you want, but our kids tend to latch onto something and become extraordinary at it, whether it is a sport or tearing apart a radio and putting it together again. With Joshua, he will never be able to “play the game” because of all the strategy and confusion the game takes on. As for Coach Johnson, good for him. He gave a great gift to Jason and his family. As for you, Ken, maybe God will bless you with a child with a disability one day, and you can be as thankful as the rest of us for any opportunity that he or she does not get on a normal day because of ignorances of our society. And even if Jason would not made all of those shots….I can guarantee you that the thrill of being able to play would have made his year, media hype or not. It’s funny that even a losing team such as the opposing team, saw the joy in these moments, even when others are unable to.

— added by Angie on Sunday, March 19, 2006 at 3:35 pm

there is nothing divine, godly, or unexplainable about this. sure, he did something really good, but he IS NOT as autistic as they make him out to be. He leads a very normal life and has very normal friends, but his learning abilities are slightly below average. i know kids who ARENT autistic who are idiots compared to him.

— added by Anonymous on Tuesday, May 9, 2006 at 9:31 pm