Coach Jim Johnson’s mantra, “dreams really do come true,” came to life Feb.15 2006, as the bleachers of Greece Athena High School exploded into cheers after Johnson called in number 52, Jason McElwain to the final game of the season. Jason — A.K.A., J-Mac — was a student at Greece Athena High School who had a burning passion for basketball, but was never able to play due to his disability — autism. Johnson — a devout Catholic who uses his faith as a base for his life as a husband, father and coach — truly believes anyone has potential to be great and shares his moral values with his family, friends and students every day.
Throughout Jason’s high school career, he tried out for multiple sports teams but never made the cut due to his short stature and mild clumsiness brought on by his disability. But things started to change for Jason when he met Coach Johnson. A coach of numerous high school teams for more than 25 years, Johnson saw Jason’s passion but was unable to land him a spot on his team. Instead, he appointed Jason team manager, a role he gladly accepted. Johnson knew this would be Jason’s best chance to be a part of the sport he loved so much.
With Johnson as a mentor, Jason became an integral part of the team for several seasons. But Johnson knew there was one goal Jason wanted most to achieve — the chance to play in a varsity game. Seeing Jason’s persistence and dedication to his sport, Johnson couldn’t let his goals be crushed again in the midst of his senior year. This decision Johnson had to make was a tough one; there could be objections from parents and possible ridicule if something unexpected happened. But one thing loomed most in Johnson’s eyes: to get Jason into the last game of his senior year.
The game was against Spencerport, a bitter rival, and with four minutes left in the last period, Johnson stood up and pointed at Jason to sub in. The entire crowd erupted in jubilant cries as Jason stepped onto the court. And, to everyone’s surprise, Jason scored 20 points, six of which were three-pointers, leading Greece Athena to the division title. The fans proceeded to rush from the bleachers onto the court, lifting Jason up in celebration. Johnson could only stand and watch in awe as Jason embraced his moment of glory and realized his dream had finally come true.
Today, Johnson — a member of the Greece Teachers Association — speaks publicly about his remarkable journey with Jason and has written a book, “A Coach and a Miracle.” He is still teaching but is planning to retire in a few years. He and Jason, now a volunteer assistant coach for freshman football and modified baseball for Greece Athena, still work together as coach and manager partners, trying to make the lives of everyone they meet a true miracle.