SOUTH ELGIN – With one game left in his first St. Charles Storm youth basketball season, Liam Morgan had never made a basket.
He’d never really made it past half-court.
Liam, from South Elgin, enjoys playing for the Storm because he “wants to make baskets.”
Basketball is his favorite sport. He enjoys playing with friends and even listens to heavy metal music.
In a sense, Liam bucks the usual stereotypes of those who have autism.
He wants to be hugged all the time, too.
Attempts to get him on the board earlier in his game March 17 fell unsuccessful.
But it was meant to be.
Roughly halfway through the final five minutes and with the clock stopped, Liam swished the ball through the net after joining the game as a substitute. The collective effort of coaches, teammates, opponents and the referee helped make the shot possible with his extended family in attendance.
His dad, C.J., had no idea it was in the plan. Mom Lisa was iffy on making the game as Liam’s younger brother, Alexander, had a birthday party. She made it – tears later flowing.
Liam, a 7-year-old second-grader at Munhall Elementary School, has autism. It’s a disability that could encompass a range of cognitive, social and communicative challenges. Liam also participates in soccer, gymnastics and Cubs Scouts.
The heartwarming moment was captured on video and circulated among local social media groups. Liam’s shot eventually made ABC7 News. April, fittingly, is National Autism Awareness Month.
“I’ve seen [similar] videos of this happening, but we never really expected it to happen to us,” C.J. Morgan said. “It was awesome.”
In sharing the video, C.J. Morgan also really wanted to share the team and good-people aspect. The collective inclusion and understanding has been a bright spot all season long.
Liam has played on previous youth teams. Some came with positive experiences, and others had some bumps. This Storm team is well beyond different.
“A lot of it is about the team,” C.J. Morgan said of sharing the video. “The tolerance of the kids, the inclusion from the coaches, the amount of effort they put into Liam to make sure he was good ... it was completely different.”
His coaches, Jason and Liz Tisch, helped facilitate the inclusive, welcoming environment on the 10-member second-grade team by cycling partners in practice, getting each player equal playing time in games and taking turns taking the ball up the court.
“We were just really proud of the support that everybody gave Liam – from other kids on the team [and] parents. I have to give a lot of credit to the referee of that game. He was doing everything he could do to help Liam as well,” Jason Tisch said.
“To see [Liam] finally have that experience was really rewarding for us as well,” Liz Tisch added.