(January 29, 2014) – Autism Awareness in College Hoops started based on the idea of two coaches who have a passion for spreading autism awareness. Towson’s Pat Skerry and Marshall’s Tom Herrion, both who have sons on the autism spectrum will be wearing the Autism Speaks puzzle piece along with more than 80 other coaches and sportscasters during their games on Feb. 1. Recently we spoke with Skerry and Herrion to get their perspective of the big day.
Thanks for giving us some time to talk with you today.
Coach Skerry: Not a problem. We are really excited to be behind the cause. When Coach Herrion and myself sat down we knew this was something we were both passionate about and wanted to get behind.
What are you hoping to accomplish with Autism Awareness Day in college basketball?
Coach Herrion: Pat and I put our heads together to get something off the ground. This was a first ever endeavor for us. The goal is to educate all of the country about autism and the depth of what autism is. It's to talk about how it’s affecting our society -- including the lives of me and Coach Skerry's. We believe that using the platform and stage of college basketball will help. It’s an incredible stage for exposure.
Coach Skerry: Mainly bringing awareness to the people. The prevalence of autism today is huge. It affects 1 in 88 and 1 in 54 boys. It cost a lot of money out of pocket for many families who don’t have it covered under their insurance. This blue puzzle piece you have here is going to bring great awareness to the game.
What does it mean to you that so many of your colleagues in the basketball-coaching world are helping raise autism awareness by wearing the puzzle pin?
Coach Skerry: You know. I’m honored to be a Division I basketball coach. We have so many rock stars in our business. Right now through the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) we’ve asked them to sponsor this day and wear the puzzle pieces. We have over 351 members in Division I and we are reaching out to Division II and Division III coaches as well. I'm excited to watch all the games I can that day and see the puzzle pieces out there. A lot of people who won’t be on TV are also going to be trying to wear them to support the cause.
Coach Herrion: It’s humbling. Coach Skerry and me were the ones to contact these coaches directly. There has been complete support across the board. Autism Speaks and college basketball will be together on this day. Pat and I have good programs but when we can get the rock stars of our industry on board, Coach K, Jim Boeheim, Coach Self, Calipari and all the others on board including the media you know you have something special.
What do you hope the casual college basketball fan that comes to the games or tunes in from home gains about autism from this day?
Coach Skerry: I hope they Google an image of the puzzle pin to find out what it is. Not only that but after that they Google autism. It’s interesting because we know that this is gaining traction. Even non-coaches such as analysts like Seth Davis and Jay Bilas have asked for pins to wear on that day. We really hope that these fans ask what autism is and try to get involved with the cause after that.
Coach Herrion: It’s a couple of things. I don’t think the country understands how serious a developmental disability is. And I think it’s equally important that not all states understand what autism is when it comes to insurance reform. So many kids are falling through the cracks.
Do you know what’s next for this awareness effort? Do you plan on hosting another autism awareness event?
Coach Skerry: We definitely know we want to. Hopefully after this game we can get involved with experts such as yourself at Autism Speaks and figure out how we can grow this to benefit our game, the autism community, and hopefully how to fundraise money towards the autism cause in the future.
Coach Herrion: We are absolutely going to brainstorm. We want to put our heads together after the season and see on ways we can improve this idea. We know it’s not just a one-time thing based on the feedback we’ve been getting. We have to put our heads together and come up with a game plan. Just like coaching college basketball, we want to find the strengths of what this can be and then put it into action.
You can watch an interview on Coach Herrion from Marshall University's media team below. You can read more on how Autism Awareness in College Hoops has been building momentum here.
Click here to view the full schedule of NCAA division I basketball games for Feb 1 along with the TV listings. If you will be attending/watching one of the games this weekend make sure to tweet at #AutismHoops to continue the conversation.