For Schroyer, It Is About More Than Basketball
By Mark Knudson, The Mtn. InsiderFebruary 7, 2011
Heath Schroyer was something of a fish out of water. The baseball uniform fit him okay, but he certainly wasn’t in his element. He was, however, 100% into what we were doing and why we were doing it, which was the most important thing.
Schroyer was getting ready set to start his second season as the men’s basketball coach at the University of Wyoming when we met on a warm August night in 2008. We stood together, with our young sons, near home plate at Sky Sox Stadium in Colorado Springs. We shook hands and prepared to address a crowd of about 2,500 that had come to watch a bunch of old timers from the sports and entertainment worlds play an exhibition baseball game. The event was designed to raise money and awareness for the Autism Society of Colorado.
Both Schroyer and I are parents of son’s afflicted with Autism.
Heath and his son, Hayden, stood with Matthew and I and we thanked the crowd for coming. We took turns mentioning the growing epidemic of Autism and how critical it is for children to get early intervention treatment if parents believe for even one second that a child could be in any way afflicted. It’s a message that both of us were – and still are – able to deliver with direct knowledge and passion.
As we wrapped up our remarks, I handed the mic to Matthew, and he said, “play ball.”
Play ball we did, albeit not real well. Nonetheless, everyone - fans and participants alike - had a great time. I discovered that day just how important the mission of Autism awareness was to Heath and his wife, Karen. At the time, there was not a lot of unity among the Autism community in Wyoming, and the Schroyer’s had turned to the south for some involvement.
That turned out to be the last “Legends” baseball game we were able to put on in Colorado Springs. When the economy crashed a couple months later, sponsorship involvement for events like ours dried up. It’s the same story for a lot of similar causes and events. But that did not dissuade the Schroyers. Looking forward, they saw an opportunity to use the forum of Cowboy basketball to not only rally the fan base around the team, but around a special cause as well. They decided to be a unifying force for the Autism community within Wyoming.
The result was the first “White Out/Cowboys Connect with Autism” game against New Mexico in January of 2010. Schroyer’s team gave a spirited effort that day in front of more than 6,000 fans but came up just short against the eventual league champions, with the Lobos holding on for a 70-68 win. By all accounts, the promotion was a big success.
The Schroyer’s joined forces with Autism Speaks, the nation’s most visible Autism advocacy and research organization. They began working to build up the Autism community in Wyoming. Hayden, now eight years old, is a regular at Wyoming home games and even gets some floor time on occasion. Speaking from experience, I can promise you that the moments Heath and Hayden have together like that are priceless.
The second annual “White Out Autism” awareness game and promotion happened this past Saturday night when the Pokes hosted Colorado State. The school again sold white t-shirts with the slogan “Cowboys Connect with Autism” emblazoned on the front. The result on the court was very similar to the year before, and it came on the heels of a last minute, heartbreaking loss to BYU three days earlier. This time Wyoming fell three points short against their archrival, and the loss dropped the Pokes to 1- 8 in Conference play.
The injury-ravaged Cowboys have not been able to have the kind of season on the court that Schroyer or Wyoming fans had planned on during a season in which the Mountain West Conference has emerged as one of the top basketball conferences in the country.
But on a brighter note, the event was able to raise more than $4,300 for Autism Speaks. Just as importantly, the Schroyer’s have very likely influenced and educated parents in Wyoming to not ignore the early signs of Autism and to be pro-active when having their children evaluated by professionals. My guess is that as long as the Schroyer’s are in Laramie, those dollars raised and the family’s ability to be a positive influence in the state will continue to grow and grow.
I suppose I’m fortunate that Heath has found a better way to raise money and awareness for the cause than I did. After all, he hasn’t asked me to suit up with Charles Bradley or Bill Garnett and venture into his arena like I had him do for me.
Thanks, Heath. I owe you one.
A lot of us do.
Read all of Mark Knudson's blog entries HERE