by Sal Maiorana
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
GREECE, NY - Greece Athena boys' basketball coach Jim Johnson knew he had a tenuous balancing act to perform Tuesday night.
In the morning, Jason McElwain, otherwise known as J-Mac, appeared on NBC's Today to commemorate the five-year anniversary of his never-to-be-forgotten 20-point performance in the only varsity game he ever played in.
The appearance garnered plenty of attention in the media, and there was a buzz around the school because, as senior Trojans guard Alex Spitale said, "It's exciting because we have a celebrity in our neighborhood."
However, Johnson did not want to let the hoopla diminish what the night was really supposed to be about: A celebration for the soon-to-be-graduating senior players and cheerleaders.
"I wanted to be fair to this years' team, it's their Senior Night, so we tried to low-key (the J-Mac anniversary) as much as possible," Johnson said.
And Johnson said following the Trojans' 69-55 victory over Spencerport that he believes he succeeded in that mission.
"In my coaching career it was the greatest thrill I ever had so it's a memory I'll cherish as long as I live," Johnson said of that night when J-Mac became an international celebrity and struck a resounding blow for those afflicted with autism.
J-Mac went to New York City along with his brother, Josh, and a couple of Josh's friends, on Monday. They spent the night in the Big Apple, then J-Mac was in the NBC studio by 7:30 a.m. After his segment, the boys were driven to the airport and they were back in Rochester by 2 p.m.
J-Mac wasn't home long as he had to get to Athena to help coach the JV team for its 5 p.m. tip, and after the Trojans dropped a heartbreaking 46-45 decision, he was on the bench as he always is for the varsity. "I'm exhausted," he said at the end of the night. "But a win is always good after a loss."
It was an interesting night at Athena, to be sure. The Trojans' Senior Night fell on the same date as the one in 2006, the night of the J-Mac game; Athena was playing the same opponent, Spencerport; and one of the officials from the J-Mac game, Mike Padulo, was working Tuesday night.
Beyond all that, there was a touching show of support for Churchville-Chili High School, which suffered a tragedy Saturday when two of its varsity basketball players were involved in an automobile accident. One student, Dijon Pratt, was killed, and another, Marcus Blythers, was injured.
The student cheering section at Athena kept their black and gold gear in their closets and wore Churchville-Chili orange. And both teams wore something orange in their uniforms. Athena happened to be Churchville-Chili's opponent the night before the accident. "It was eerie in the sense that we played them on Friday night," said Johnson. "I was watching the film of the game Sunday and realized that this young man passed away. I'm really proud of our school and all the schools in the county to come together and rally to support them."
As for this game, it certainly lacked the drama of the J-Mac game. The Trojans (12-6) jumped on the Rangers (7-11) early and twice opened 20-point leads in the first half as John Wallace scored 15 of his 22 points.
Spencerport pulled within 10 by the end of the third quarter, but the Trojans went on a 13-6 run to open the fourth quarter and were never threatened again.
The scene at the end of the night was diametrically different from the chaos that ensued after J-Mac drained the last of his six three-point field goals five years ago, something Padulo will never forget.
"It was great," said the referee who has been officiating basketball for 20 years. "I didn't get caught up in the moment, but I felt happy for the coach, the players and the whole school." But J-Mac has already moved on because in a few days, as he said, "It's time for sectionals."
Gannett ContentOne - Rochester, NY