J-Mac: Five Years Later

10:44 AM, Feb 16, 2011   |    comments
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GREECE, NY-- It was nothing short of an athletic miracle, and it still echoes in the Suburban Rochester gymnasium, where one winter night, a boy and his coach changed everything.

"I still get goose bumps," said Jim Johnson, the boys' basketball Coach at Greece-Athena High School. "It's just amazing that's it's been almost five years now. It's crazy."

The boy, Jason McElwain, or "J-Mac", was a bright-eyed team manager with autism. And his big-hearted coach, Jim Johnson, allowed him to suit up for one varsity basketball game at the end of the season.

And somehow, some way, the boy scored.
And kept scoring... and scoring.... and scoring.

"I was hot as a pistol," McElwain said.

By the time the buzzer had sounded, and the stunned students sprinted onto the court, raising J-Mac into the air, he had scored 20 points in the game's final four minutes.

"If I hadn't seen it, I'm not sure I would have believed it," Johnson said. "To score 20 points in four minutes is just crazy."

After that crazy night, the two would be forever linked as the boy who shocked the world, and the coach whose kindness and courage made it possible. Overnight, they became a national phenomenon. Television crews followed them everyone, telling their story for weeks.

Major sporting events hosted J-Mac, his coach and his teammates. They met with famous athletes like Magic Johnson and Lebron James. J-Mac even won an ESPN "Espy Award" for the year's best moment in sports. And, with his coach and his family at his side, he stood alongside the President of the United States.

"I'll call you J-Mac. You can call me George W," said President Bush, as everyone laughed.

Five years later, the fiery, bright-eyed boy has grown into a young man and a leader. J-Mac is re-united with Coach Johnson as an assistant to the junior varsity team. He's now "Coach J-mac."

"I think he is a real inspiring coach," said junior varsity co-captain Richard Marshall.

"He's awesome on the court too during games," said Frankie Carnevale, the team's other captain. "We have to actually calm him down sometimes. He's so into the game. He loves the game more than any of us combined."

REPORTER: He's a coach with you now.
REPORTER: How special is that... to have him around?
JOHNSON: It's been really neat. Growing our relationship -- we still do a lot of things together. I take him scouting a lot. We talk basketball a lot. So it's been really neat to have him back in our lives on a consistent basis.

"If it wasn't for him, I don't know where I'd be right now," J-Mac said. "Coaching - it really makes a difference on a lot of young kids lives. Coaching is not about wins and losses. It's about teaching them to be the best players they can be and the best people they can be.

Jason, who has high-functioning autism, also continues to work two jobs at Wegmans and at a local restaurant. His tenacity taught Johnson a valuable lesson. After watching J-Mac realize his dream of playing basketball, Johnson chose to follow his own dream.

Johnson now uses his inspirational coaching style as a motivational speaker, touring the state and sometimes country. Sometimes he and J-Mac appear together.

Johnson is also releasing a book this year "A Coach and a Miracle" (www.acoachandamiracle.com), which reveals how J-mac's miracle quickly began to rub off on other athletes across the country.

"There were just so many ironies, it got scary -- that everything he seemed like he touched turned to gold," Johnson said.

It began with his own team. Before that special night five years ago, Johnson's teams had come close but had never won the sectional title.
A few weeks later, the team, inspired by its hard-charing manager, finally took home the championship. The program went on to win two more.

That same year, 2006, J-Mac visited with the University of Florida men's basketball team at the Final Four. Florida won tournament, and again the following year.

That summer, Indianapolis Colts Quarterback Peyton Manning invited J-Mac to Colts training camp. Manning's team finally won Super Bowl that season. And the following year, 2007, J-Mac visited with San Antonio Spurs Forward Robert Horry. And, yes, the Spurs went on to win the NBA Championship.

REPORTER: Is there something almost mystical about him that we don't realize?
JOHNSON: I think there is. I laugh. I kid people in my speeches that it's the magic of J-Mac.

REPORTER: In case Ralph Wilson is listening, do you think you might visit the Bills training camp next year?

J-MAC: I would like to, but um...

REPORTER: Everywhere you go seems to win.

J-MAC: It hasn't the last two years. Ralph Wilson just needs to not give up on the team. And hopefully keep the team here in Buffalo.

REPORTER: What should parents who have children with autism maybe take away from this whole experience. Not just that night, but the fact that he's coaching now and doing all of these other great things?

JOHNSON: I think the greatest thing in life is hope. And that story has given hope to a lot of people. And the other thing is to never give up on your dreams.

REPORTER: Are you still living the dream?

JMAC: Still living it. But I'm trying to accomplish more. My goal right now is to get a college job, a college coaching job somewhere. Don't care what role, but I just want it.

JOHNSON: We all have potential to do something really, really good in our lives. And I think that's a great lesson from the story and the game.

It was a lesson in how a coach's compassion and a team manager's determination to defy autism turned into four miraculous minutes that, five years later, continue to inspire the world.

"Basketball is a life lesson sport," J-Mac said. "It's a life-lesson sport because things don't always go your way, at all... It basically sunk into my mind that you just don't give up. You can accomplish anything you want in your life. Sometimes dreams do come true."

For those of you who think J-Mac's story is good enough to make into a movie, you're absolutely right. The rights were sold shortly after that amazing game. but there's no timetable on when the film will be made.

For more information on Coach Johnson's new book, visit www.acoachandamiracle.com.


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