February 15, 2006: With only four minutes remaining in the final home game of the season, Greece Athena High School in upstate New York subs in scorekeeper Jason McElwain, a 17-year-old student with autism. Coach Jim Johnson had added Jason to the team and promised to put him in the game if the lead was big enough. It was, and Jason got to play. He air-balled his first shot. And he missed the next one. But then Jason stunningly swished a three-pointer. He hit another—and another—and another. Jason ended up making his final seven attempts, six of them three-pointers, to finish with a miraculous 20 points.
The crowd was hoping to see Jason get his chance that night. Greece Athena students, who affectionately called him “J-Mac,” had made cardboard cutouts of Jason’s face, and they erupted when Johnson put him in the game. The crowd went berserk when Jason made that first basket, and it got crazier with every shot that went in. When the final buzzer sounded, his fellow students rushed the floor and carried J-Mac off the court.
A month later, President George W. Bush made a special stop near Rochester just so he could meet 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 then got serious. “Our country was captivated by an amazing story,” said Bush. “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 admitted that when he saw the story on TV, he wept, “just like a lot of other people did.”
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)