BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Eight years ago, Thompson basketball coach Dru Powell started a program called ‘Shooting-To-Change.’ The goal was to promote autism acceptance through sports and last week it was the team manager who made big news around the entire state.
“When I first found out I had autism, I pretty much had a tough time accepting myself,” said Thompson basketball manager Peyton Grillo, while he explained his autism to the team ahead of the varsities Autism Awareness game. “Then I realized that ‘hey,’ this could help me inspire others, which basically was my main goal.”
The freshmen had no clue what would happen next.
“He said some awesome words to our team and just opened the door, you know, right away for me to give him that jersey and let him know that he’d be in the starting lineup the following night,” said Thompson basketball coach Dru Powell.
The next night Peyton took the floor and stole the show.
“For warm-ups, we were over there, and every time I made a three or a layup the crowd started jumping up and down,” Peyton said.
“We’re kind of blown away by the attention, but always knew Peyton was going to make a special mark on this world and this is not just his 15 minutes of fame,” said Peyton’s mom, Misty Grillo.
It wasn’t just his 15 minutes of fame, because what happened in the first 15 seconds made him the talk of the town.
And then he made that shot.
“That might be the biggest shot I’ve ever seen,” said Coach Powell. “I’ve been doing this for a while. That may be the biggest shot I’ve ever seen.”
“I felt like I just hit a game winning shot. I was like, ‘oh, what’s going on here? It’s only been 15 seconds in the game.’ And I hit a three and we’re running out like, it’s a three-point shot,” Peyton said. “I kind of turned into Nick Saban. I was like, ‘Dude, get back in the stands. Get back in the stands. This game’s not over yet.'”
“You know, for Peyton to knock that shot down and see the way that our fans and our players and teams responded, you know and want to celebrate and honor him was just a fabulous night. It was amazing,” said Powell.
“What kind of response have you got from people at school?” Kauffman asked.
Thompson ended up winning the game by four points. So, they needed every one of those three points Peyton put up.
“Oh, yeah. I mean, that’s something you paid 12 bucks for and go sit in a movie theater and learn. It could not have been scripted any better,” Powell said.
He assisted the team in the win and helped to bring awareness to people with autism, but the thing is, helping people is just what Peyton does.
“You know, Peyton brings positive energy to our team every single day,” said Powell.
“He is a true inspiration to all kids with disabilities and special needs and we’re super excited for his future to come,” said Misty.
The opportunity for him to play gave him the chance to experience all of this — getting the start, making the shot. His story is now spreading well beyond the gym at Thompson High School, something that means more to Peyton than anything.
“It means a lot because, you know, I want to inspire others around the globe. You know, not just with autism., but also people with Down Syndrome,” Peyton said. “People who have cancer, people go through abusive relationships. You know pretty much people who go through tough times. I want them to know that ‘Hey, you can do anything you put your mind to as long as you work hard at it.”
A reminder everybody needs from time to time.