Towson men’s basketball coach leading the charge in driving autism awareness
When Pat Skerry took over as the Head Coach of the Towson University Men’s Basketball program in 2011, he inherited a team amid a 41-game losing streak. It only took a year for the first-time head coach to turn the Tiger’s 1-31 record into an 18-win season and a second-place finish in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Coach Skerry’s 19 years of experience as an assistant coach at various other colleges certainly played a part in Towson’s rapid turnaround. But the importance he placed on creating a family atmosphere among his players propelled the program to new heights quicker.
His youngest son, Owen, 14, was diagnosed with autism at 18 months old. He has needed a community of supports for most of his life, so ingratiating his personal life with his life on the court has become a pivotal part of Coach Skerry’s overall success both as a dad and as a coach.
“Owen really wasn’t meeting his benchmarks, and we weren’t quite sure what to do because we didn’t have much knowledge of autism at the time. Luckily, we were living in Baltimore County, and we were connected with tremendous teams who have provided great resources to get Owen diagnosed and everything he needed moving forward.”
Today, Owen is a full-time student at the Trellis School, a special education school, which provides therapeutic interventions tailored for children with autism. The school constructed a personalized support plan under the guidance of his teachers and school staff to ensure he has all the resources available to him to reach his full potential.
Coach Skerry said he’s thankful to the Trellis School for the structure they’ve provided Owen, and credits his wife, Kristen, for ensuring that their son is happy and well taken care of whether he’s at school or home with the family.
“I’m so grateful for all that Kristen does for Owen and the sacrifices she makes on a daily basis. Their relationship is beyond special.”
One of the most impactful ways the coach was able to unite his personal and professional worlds was by co-founding Coaches Powering Forward in 2014, an annual initiative bringing the NCAA community together to champion the mission of Autism Speaks and raise awareness of the autism community as a whole. In the past decade, more than 5,000 Autism Speaks puzzle piece pins have been worn by coaches, staff and broadcasters, fostering inclusivity during awareness games.
With prevalence rates at 1 in 36 children in the United States diagnosed with autism, Coach Skerry knows the more eyes he can get on the pins during the campaign, the more difference that can be made for autistic people and their families.
“At first, my family and I participated in the local Autism Speaks Walk and participated in other events around campus, basically doing whatever we could from a grassroots level to raise awareness for autism. From there, myself and a couple other coaches made calls to other coaches across the NCAA and asked if they’d wear the pins during their games as a show of solidarity with the autism community. After we got Autism Speaks involved in more of an official capacity, that’s when things kind of took off.”
Eighty-two coaches participated in the first year of the campaign, and its footprint has grown each season. Since, coaches, both from the men’s and women’s games, and television broadcasters—many of them appearing on national television games—have raised awareness of autism by donning the puzzle piece pin.
“It’s always fun when you see the big-time coaches at the national powerhouse schools wearing the pins during games that have a lot of eyeballs on them. We have done a great job making this into a powerful awareness campaign, but we’d love to expand it even further and do even more good for more people. It’s something I’m very proud of so it’s near and dear to my heart.”
Teams eager to be part of this impactful journey can register before February 10, 2024, to receive FREE pins. Whether you wear them during our designated Coaches Powering Forward for Autism Acceptance week or throughout the year, your commitment to our mission is immensely valued.
We hope that your team will join us to raise awareness and bring us one step closer to a world where all people with autism can reach their full potential. Register before February 10, 2024 to be a part of Coaches Powering Forward!