Here's the kind of story Hollywood scriptwriters dream up: team manager comes off the bench to score 20 points in the last four minutes of his only varsity basketball game. This story, though, features a Hollywood twist that's stranger than fiction: the hero has autism.
No wonder it's now the stuff of real-life Hollywood legend. This April, two months after being triumphantly carried off the court on his teammates' shoulders, Jason McElwain reached a deal with Columbia Pictures to produce a movie of his life story.
Backsto: McElwain didn't begin talking until he was 5. Although he still lacks social skills at 17, his special education teacher reports that he's learned to cope well.
“I'm not really that different,” McElwain says. “I don't really care about this autistic situation. It's just the way I am. The advice I'd give to autistic people is just keep working, just keep dreaming, you'll get your chance and you'll do it.”
McElwain's chance came when he was rewarded for his dedication as team manager by getting to suit up for his Rochester, N.Y., high school's last regular-season game. Taking the floor in the waning minutes, he promptly missed his first two shots. Then he caught fire — sinking six 3-point shots.
“This is the first moment Jason has ever succeeded and could be proud of himself,” his mother, Debbie McElwain, said that night. “I look at autism as the Berlin Wall — and he cracked it.”
Considered too small to make even the JV squad as a 5-foot-6 senior, he became a big man on a campus suddenly deluged with inquiries from parents of children with autism and other developmental disorders. Overnight, he became something of a national hero.
In March, he met with President Bush, who admittedly wept upon seeing the grainy highlights of McElwain's performance on the network news shows. In late April, McElwain appeared as a guest on “Oprah.” The next day, he met with the producer of his film: one Magic Johnson.
“I don't care who plays me,” McElwain says, “as long as it's a great movie.”
With a happy ending, no doubt.