The Louisville Cardinal

Pitino joins in speaking up for Autism

Photo by Austin Lassell

By Annie Moore–

Watching Louisville’s game against Central Florida on Saturday, or any other game on Saturday for that matter, you may have noticed the coaches wearing small, blue puzzle pieces on their lapels. These small pins were the real big winner of the weekend, because they were worn in support of Autism Speaks.

Autism Speaks is the leading foundation for fundraising, science, advocacy and awareness efforts about Autism. Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are both nicknames for a group of complex disorders of the brain. One in 88 children in America are on the Autism spectrum.  But what does that have to do with college basketball?

Towson University Head Coach Pat Skerry knows. Coach Skerry is all too familiar with Autism; his 4-year-old son Owen is autistic. That’s where the inspiration came from for this nationwide awareness campaign. Coach Skerry worked with Marshall University head coach Tom Herrion — who also has a child with autism — to begin a campaign for college basketball to raise awareness for the cause.

“Quite a few of our peers have children with Autism, so we certainly want to support it,” said Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. “I truly don’t understand the disease much myself. I know that there’s very little money being given to that, so we wanted to generate some awareness to it.”

Over 80 Division I coaches, including Pitino responded, wearing the blue puzzle pieces to symbolize a committed effort from the basketball community to raise awareness. Other notable coaches supporting the cause were Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Kansas’ Bill Self, Kentucky’s John Calipari and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim. These coaches and so many others wore the pin and every major game that aired on Saturday featured a coach raising awareness.

Autism is a complex mental disorder, the cause, scope of effects and treatment is unknown. Children with Autism are classified on a scale ranging from symptoms such as social-behavioral issues to debilitating intellectual and motor issues.  The rate of children who are identified as on the autism spectrum has increased ten-fold over the past 40 years.

With the rate of children affected rising and so little known about everything surrounding Autism, it is charities like Autism Speaks and gestures like those by the coaches that will help raise awareness to unlock the key to curing and preventing Autism. This is a cause that Pitino said he and his fellow coaches believe is a slam-dunk.

“Everybody did it, everybody’s for it, it’s something we all want to support,” Pitino said.

Photo by Austin Lassell