The fashion trend sweeping through college basketball this weekend began partly with Towson's Pat Skerry.
Along with Texas Christian assistant coach Tom Herrion, a friend of Skerry's and former colleague at Pittsburgh, Skerry began wearing a blue puzzle-piece pin on his lapel in 2013 to raise awareness for autism. His 7-year-old son, Owen, is on the autism spectrum. The disorder is characterized by difficulties with social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
When Skerry's wife called Autism Speaks, an autism advocacy organization, to request its signature blue pin, it cost $5. Now, four years later, ahead of one of the sport's most jam-packed TV weekends, Skerry told Rob Dauster's College Basketball Talk podcast that about 370 coaches across all levels will be participating in Coaches Powering Forward for Autism.
"Coaches, I think, sometimes get a bad rap for stuff, but our coaching brethren has been outstanding at wearing the pins and supporting it," Skerry said. "It's really cool to go home at night and watch some of the big-time guys sporting the blue puzzle piece, because that really brings a lot of awareness. It's a great platform."
Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disorder in the United States. According to Autism Speaks, one in every 68 children, and one in every 42 boys, is diagnosed on the autism spectrum. The disorder affects over 3 million people nationwide, and the prevalence has risen in recent years.
Towson (14-10, 6-5 Colonial Athletic Association) will face William & Mary (13-9, 7-4) on Saturday at SECU Arena in light blue uniforms and shoes. Each game-worn jersey will be for sale ($150) through the Towson athletic department website, with proceeds benefiting Pathfinders for Autism.
As support for Coaches Powering Forward grows each year, Skerry hopes to one day stage an event similar to the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.
"The long-term goal is that it's not an autism-awareness game," he told Dauster. "It's an autism-acceptance game."