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Coaches wearing lapel pins to raise autism awareness

Jan. 29, 2014 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Maybe people will notice many college men's basketball coaches wearing blue lapel pins Saturday in televised games and ask what it means.

That's the reaction Marshall Thundering Herd head coach Tom Herrion wants.

Herrion and his close friend, Towson University head coach Pat Skerry teamed up to sponsor Autism Awareness Day. Herrion and Skerry are fathers of autistic sons -- Robert Herrion, 8, and Owen Skerry, 4.

They purchased 200 puzzle piece-shaped lapel pins promoting autism awareness from Autism Speaks Inc., and sent them to colleagues around the nation.

Reponse was unbelievable, Herrion said.

"There's a saying, 'Autism Speaks,' " Herrion said. "Well, college basketball coaches are listening."

Coaches such as Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheim, John Calipari, Tom Izzo, Roy Williams, Bob Huggins, Billy Donovan, Bill Self, Bo Ryan, Tubby Smith, Thad Matta, Jay Wright and Lon Kruger agreed to wear the pins.

All Conference USA coaches joined in, including Mike Jarvis at Florida Atlantic who will be on the opposite bench from Herrion in a noon Saturday game at Cam Henderson Center that's televised on CSS.

Some national media members including Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas, Seth Davis on the ESPN College GameDay crew will also be wearing the pin.

"We're getting coaches from (NCAA) Division II and Division III that have children who are autistic," Herrion said. "It's resonating."

Autism is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication skills, according to Autism Speaks. Statistics from autismspeaks.org show that it affects about 1 in 88 children and is four to five times more common among boys than girls.

The condition is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental influences and can occur with no family history. While autism is usually a life-long condition, all children and adults benefit from interventions, or therapies, that can reduce symptoms and increase skills and abilities, information on the Autism Speaks website says.

Herrion said there is a lack of support from a health insurance standpoint because many states don't recognize autism as a disability. The first Autism Awareness Day isn't a fund-raising effort, but it is an attempt to get the word out.

"We brainstormed last spring and summer about how to bring awareness," Herrion said. "You can't put a dollar value on marketability."

Marshall players will wear a special black Nike shooting shirt during Saturday's pre-game warmup with "We Are. ... Listening" and the block M logo on the front. On the back is a multi-colored puzzle piece symbol with the words "Autism Speaks. It's Time to Listen."

The special shirts provided by Nike are not for sale.

Herrion's relationship with Skerry dates back to their days working summer basketball camps in New England. When Herrion was the head coach at College of Charleston he had Skerry on his staff for two seasons. Then, when Herrion left the University of Pittsburgh for Marshall he helped Skerry land a job with the Panthers.

Skerry's team from Towson, Md., is also on TV Saturday in a Colonial Athletic Association home game at 4:30 p.m. against Drexel on NBC Sports Network.

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