February 15th 2006, High School coach, Jim Johnson, gives student manager, Jason McElwain – a kid who suffered with autism – the final four minutes of the final game of the season; a token gesture to show that everyone was part of the team.
But when those four minutes had passed, McElwain had 20 points to his name. And the crowd were chanting Jason’s name.
A moment nobody involved, from Johnson to McElwain to the onlookers, had expected to witness. But they did. And it was special.
McElwain was one of four substitutes on the court that night – three other players who barely got any playing time – but anytime anyone received the ball, they were looking for Jason. And McElwain duly obliged, sinking 20 points for Athena High.
The referee’s full-time whistle signalled scenes befitting of a dramatic NBA Finals win!
Johnson wanted the world to know of the story of Jason McElwain and his inspirational four minutes. However, despite contacting the local paper, the coach was disheartened to find the 20-point haul confined to a mere footnote on page seven.
Although disheartened that the wider world hadn’t yet shared in McElwain’s moment, Johnson was in no way discouraged. And when the coach realised that Marcus Luciano – the student tasked with filming the basketball team – had not followed his direct orders of strictly filming footage of tactical formations, he was delighted:
“Little did I know, it was a brilliant move from him.”
Luciano had captured McElwain’s shot, the reaction of the crowd, the on-court rush after the final whistle; the moment was there for all to see. And Johnson made sure they did.
Five days after a local TV station ran the video, the national networks were getting in touch, wanting to hear more about this beautiful moment that had been played out in a quiet town, at a local high school.
“Nobody could tell you it was going to be something that would define our high school all over the country and I guess inspire people.
“I don’t want to sound cliché, but it really ingrained in me that you should think big all the time.”
A local hero had been created; an inspiration to a nation. And all this wouldn’t have been possible if Athena High School hadn’t shown something deeply lacking and forgotten in sport: human compassion.
The role of Student Manager was purposely created for Jason; a kid who had overcome so many obstacles growing up, who just wanted, like most Americans growing up, for a place out on the basketball court.
“He was almost like a little walking encyclopedia of basketball.
“He could recite the most random things people wouldn’t remember.
“People understood how much time he put into helping the team, how much he lived and breathed basketball. He really acted like an assistant coach and a player in practice. He was just always there.”
Former Athena forward Devin DePoint
Over a decade on from one of the sporting world’s most perfect moments, Jason is still inspiring: keep your eyes peeled at the next Boston marathon.