Senior Jason McElwain was the basketball team manager at Greece Athena High School in Rochester, New York. Although Jason, who has autism, was happy on the sidelines, he always dreamed of playing on the court. As a reward for his years of dedication, Coach Johnson, who headed the team, let Jason suit up for his very last home game—not to play, but to know what it feels like to be on the team. Then, with four minutes left in the game, Coach Johnson shocked the crowd by calling Jason to the floor. For the first time, he was a varsity player.
Jason's first two shots went nowhere near the basket. His third, though, was a 20-foot three pointer. The fans went wild, and Jason was just getting started. In four minutes, the kid who had struggled with autism his whole life and never played in a high school varsity game sunk six three-pointers! When Jason's last shot went in at the buzzer, the crowd stormed the court, and Jason's teammates carried their hero on their shoulders.
Jason's parents, Debbie and Dave, say they couldn't be more proud of their son. Dave says one of the greatest moments was "watching the kids start cheering, chanting [Jason's] name."
Coach Johnson says he put Jason in the game to reward him for his dedication and hard work. "He came to every practice, he came to many off-season things for us, so it was a way that I could give him a gift back for all the things he gave us," Coach Johnson says.
After Jason made his third shot in a row, Coach Johnson says everyone was overjoyed. "I was just sitting on the bench in complete disbelief with tears running down my face," he says.
Of all these young geniuses, 14-year-old Anurag Kashyap from Poway, California, probably had the biggest single-day live audience watching him. In June 2005—with 11 million people watching on ESPN—Anurag won the 78th Scripps National Spelling Bee, beating 272 other competitors.
Anurag's winning word was "appoggiatura." According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, this mouthful of a word means, "an embellishing note or tone preceding an essential melodic note or tone and usually written as a note of smaller size."
How did this eighth-grader acquire this special skill, and who encouraged him to study for three to four hours a day? "My mom introduced me to my first spelling bee [in fourth grade]. My teachers often said I should just try it," Anurag says. "Ever since then I was interested in the spelling bee."
Want to know more about the intense thrill of the National Spelling Bee? Meet the cast of Akeelah and the Bee
, a movie about a young girl from a tough L.A. neighborhood who enters the National Spelling Bee.
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