Archive for February, 2006

A new kind of hero

February 27, 2006

As a lifelong sports fan, I’ve had my share of heroes.

Last week, I found a new one.

Maybe you heard about Jason McElwain, the kid who scored 20 points in a New York State high school game.

The autistic kid who served as team manager and came in and hit six threes in the last 4:19 of a game and was then hoisted up on the shoulders of his classmates.

I saw it in passing Thursday afternoon at lunch in Raleigh, thought about it all weekend and then decided to write about it Sunday night.

You see, my 4-year-old son Ethan is autistic. To you, autism is just a word. Maybe you think about Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man.”

Don’t feel bad. Five years ago, I didn’t know either.

Now I know that it means a lot of things. It means he isn’t potty trained yet. It means he would rather play alone than with other kids. It means most of his talking comes from repeating what others say, or “echolalia” as the textbooks say. It means having my heart ripped out when people stare at him when he throws a tantrum.

And as his father, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering if I will ever get to share my love of sports with my son. I wondered if he can go to a normal school, have normal friends or a normal life.

I’M NOT wondering anymore.Jason didn’t talk until he was five, but he attends Greece Athena High School, serving as team manager for the Trojans’ basketball team. That is, until his coach, Jim Johnson, made a hero out of him.

I should have known that my peace of mind could be bolstered by sports. The “6th man” student section at Greece Athena printed up pictures of Jason, just in case he got to play. They cheered and jumped up and down with enough intensity to shake the home video you might have seen on ESPN.And they laughed with him, hugged him and carried him off the court.

They didn’t treat him like Jason McElwain, the autistic kid. He’s “J-MAC” to them, a kid who’s going to graduate and go to community college next year.

HE’S A kid who stands all of 5-6 with an awkward looking jump shot that scored the most points for the Trojans on Senior Night in his first and only high school game.

I’m not much of a crier, but I’ve shed a tear or two over this story. It taught me to look at my son for who he is, rather than for the label he carries.

He’s sweet, he loves to wrestle with me and he already plays the guitar and keyboard better than I do. He tells me he loves me and I can get a hug anytime I want one.

A lot of parents with autistic children would kill to be able to write any of that.

I don’t know what the future holds for my little boy, but I do know this. I don’t care anymore if he grows up to be like Mike.

I’d much rather see him end up like Jason.

Playoff assignments

February 18, 2006

Here are the local teams’ playoff matchups:

2A Boys
Shelby vs. West Caldwell, Friday, 8 p.m. at Lawrence Joel Coliseum

Winter baseball

February 11, 2006

My column from Saturday’s Star:

Early afternoons in February are good for things like skiing, snowboarding or maybe even a pickup football game.

They’re not, however, designed for baseball games.

On Friday in Boiling Springs, Gardner-Webb thumbed its nose at the calendar and kicked off its 2006 baseball season with a pair of seven-inning games against Delaware State.

Mother Nature fought back with a blustery winter afternoon, complete with a biting wind that ripped through my jacket like a Zach Ward fastball through a piece of newspaper.

Zach, a third-round draft pick by the Cincinnati Reds last year, was also on hand for the debut of the new-look Bulldogs.

New look is putting it a little bit mildly. There are 35 players on the GWU roster and 17 of them are freshmen. Several of them got into the game Friday, for a little on-the-job training.

“Our freshmen jitters showed up a lot in our freshmen, but they showed up in our seniors too,” GWU head coach Rusty Stroupe said.

Stroupe was a little concerned with the lack of clutch hits and the number of runners left on base, but with such a youthful crew, he was focusing on the positives.

“If were going to win, we’re going to have a different hero every day,” he said. “Blake Lalli is our returning all-everything, but he can’t do it by himself. We used the bench more than we ever thought we would today. If we’re going to win, it’s definitely going to be a team effort.”

Rusty, always the good interview, immediately copped to using a cliché. What else would you expect from a guy who is a published author (“Embracing the Chaos” — available for $20 in the concession stand) and columnist (weekly in The Star).

When he isn’t honing his writing skills, he’s rolling the dice between the lines.

With the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth — of course, when I’m freezing, there’s extra innings — Stroupe had his cleanup hitter, Matt Maloney, lay down a suicide squeeze. Lalli scored from third without a throw, and the Bulldogs came away winners.

Two of the members of the kiddie corps are local products. Former Burns standout Josh Drewery started at short and hit second while former Crest standout O.J. McFarland watched from the dugout.

Drewery is slated to play some short and pitch a little for GWU in his freshman season while McFarland is expected to redshirt — in part because he came in with a knee injury, but mostly because there are seven catchers on the roster.

“His progress is really good, not just with the knee but with learning the college game,” Stroupe said of McFarland. “It’s just a numbers thing.

“Josh is going to play a lot. He’s not likely to be in there every single game, but he’ll be playing as much as anybody.”

Now that the team has had its facelift, Varsity Field could be next in line for an extreme makeover. A new scoreboard is in place for this season, and hopefully down the road, a more Division I-looking bleacher area, press box and lighting system will appear as well.

Stroupe said that plans are in the works, and as a alumnus, I’m excited about the possibility of a renovated Varsity Field.

As a member of the media, I’m even more excited about having a press box to sit in … with a good heater.

Random thoughts

February 7, 2006

Well, Super Bowl XL is in the books and I have to say that it was the most poorly officiated Super Bowl I’ve ever seen.

Now, I was pulling for Seattle, so I have my own little bias here. But every, and I do mean EVERY, call that could possibly break in Pittsburgh’s favor did so. And don’t get me started on the offensive pass interference call on Darrell Jackson. Turns out the guy who threw the flag, back judge Bob Wagner, is a freaking Pittsburgh native.

Of course, I could just be bitter about taking the points and losing a little money. Not that I gamble or approve of it in any way…

High school hoops

Shelby invades East Rutherford tonight for a pair of games that will decide conference championships. The East girls and Shelby boys came out on top in the first matchup, and I don’t think a change of venue is likely to alter either result.

New guy

We got a new reporter today, Pete DeLea, and the dude already has a blog. There’s nothing on it yet, but here’s the link – http://pdeleastar.blogspot.com/

Duke and Carolina
Tobacco Road’s biggest rivalry tips off tonight with Duke paying a visit to the Smith Center for a date with the Tar Heels. I’d just like to give a big fat “I told you so” to my boss, Bryan Hanks and everyone else who were predicting the demise of the freshmen-laden crew from Chapel Hill. I said they’d be tourney-bound, and they will be.

That said, they’ll still get hammered tonight by a Duke squad that’s just too talented for this year’s UNC club.

Setting Sun?
Saturday’s loss at Florida Atlantic was a wasted chance for Gardner-Webb to make up some ground in the Atlantic Sun standings. As it stands, GWU is 2.5 games behind surging East Tennessee State and two games behind Belmont, Lipscomb and FAU. A game and a half separates the Bulldogs from their next opponent, Kennesaw State.

If the A-Sun Tournament started today, GWU would meet Belmont, Lipscomb or FAU. There’s a tiebreaker scenario there, but I’m not that smart.