by Ron Marinucci, Aug. 16, 2010
When in middle school, Scott Howse won the city-wide Livonia middle school cross country championship. At Livonia Churchill, he won the Most Inspirational/Unsung Hero award. And he was the Most Valuable Runner on the Schoolcraft Community College men’s cross country team in 2008.
These are some impressive accomplishments (and he has others) for the 26-year old Livonia student and runner. They become even more so when it’s known Howse has autism.
“Autism is a complex developmental disorder,” said Bob Drapal, a now-retired social worker who spent more than 30 years in the Livonia Public Schools. In fact, one of his middle school students was Scott Howse. “Autism affects an individual’s ability to interact with others. Communication is often difficult. But each person can be affected differently and to varying degrees.” According to the Autism Society, more than 1.5 million Americans now live with the effects of this neurological disorder. Drapal added, “Although both children and adults demonstrate difficulties with social interaction and both verbal and non-verbal communication, some people with autism are brilliant.”
Typically, the effects of autism are not apparent the first two years of life. Howse, then, was first diagnosed with it, both medically and educationally, at age three. He couldn’t talk until he was six years old.
Yet, he has become accomplished in many ways, not just running. He’s currently a student pursuing a general studies degree at Schoolcraft. He writes for the Autism Lighthouse Web site (www.autismlighthouse.com). Included in his writings are several poems about running. In addition, he is enrolled in a job training program at Arkay in Livonia and holds a part-time job with the Salvation Army. Last year, Howse was given a special recognition award by Community Living Services, where he gave a speech to 1,000 attendees.
Much of his motivation comes from his strong Christian faith, his family, and running. These sources of strength are not unrelated.
The Howses are certainly a running family. Father Ken was a champion Big Ten runner at the University of Illinois. That followed winning a Michigan high school cross country championship. All three of his brothers run, too. Timothy, a recent Hillsdale College graduate, was an NCAA scholarship athlete. He, too, was a cross country champion, winning a Michigan regional. Shawn is also on a college scholarship, running for Wesleyan University in Indiana. Youngest brother Franklin is a junior at Livonia Stevenson where he also runs. Mom Connie doesn’t run. “I’m the only nonrunner in the family,” she said, but added with a laugh, “I’m a charter family fan club member.”
Like most kids, Scott began “running” early in life, “two years old,” he quipped. He was home schooled by his mother until junior high, but he began running before that. Connie explained, “One [home schooling] parent started a cross country team when Scott was 11 or 12 years old. Scott and Tim were interested and joined.”
The whole family smiled as each member recalled his first race. “He got lost in the woods!” Other runners were finishing the race, but there was no Scott. “Where’s Scott? Where’s Scott?” they remembered asking as all the other runners came in. Finally, he emerged, running to the finish. Something was learned that day, though.
In his second race, students not running were stationed in trees to help keep him on the course. Ken remembers getting maps of courses or even running them before races to prevent Scott from getting lost again.
This was a problem mainly because Scott was usually in front of the pack, leading everyone. When he entered middle school at Riley in Livonia, he ran cross country and “by 8th grade, he was winning everything,” Connie said. In the 1999-2000 school year, he was undefeated in the cross country and track seasons, winning the city meet.
The next year he enrolled at Livonia Churchill, where his coach was John McGreevy. As a 9th grader, Scott won the city freshman 1600- and 3200-meter crowns
and was a member of the winning 3200-meter relay team.
As a sophomore, he had a harrowing experience, one now looked back on with fond smiles. “I ran a race with a broken collarbone,” Scott remembered with a grin. “I didn’t know I had it.” A pile-up at the start of a cross country race at Monroe Jefferson saw him go down. “I didn’t really feel it until the end,” he added somewhat sheepishly, “but Coach knew it.” “Coach” was McGreevy, who remembered the incident well. “There was something wrong. His arm was hanging limp. But I was thinking bee sting. Who could run with a broken collarbone?” Teammates and family were shouting for him to quit. “Come out! Come out!” But Scott called right back, “I’m gonna finish.” He did and McGreevy sent him to see the on-duty trainer, who suggested an immediate trip to the hospital for X-rays. The broken collarbone was confirmed.
The next day the family doorbell rang. It was the senior cross country captains. “We’ve come to see the Warrior,” they sang in greeting, bringing with them cookies they had baked themselves. According to McGreevy, “the story still circulates” at Churchill, especially when runners complain about various aches and pains.
Scott lettered three of four years in high school. “He was always a part of the team, a real teammate,” recalled his coach. His junior year was marred by health issues, but McGreevy was sure to note, “He was still involved with the team, helping out at practices and meets.”
When running, “He was a very competitive young man. He went with the rest of the guys, hanging with them.” His times were in the 18-minute range on the 5K high school cross country races. With a couple dozen “very competitive” teammates, Scott was in the top ten or so. “His disability didn’t harm him in any way,” added McGreevy.
Outside of practices and meets, he went to all the team activities, including the pre-meet pasta dinners. “He wanted to take part in all of them. Once, we took a bus to see Les Miz [Miserables] downtown.”
And, the coach maintains, “He helped the other kids on the team. They saw him overcome his disability—he ran and won.” Teammates were inspired and motivated. “He still returns to Churchill for big meets and the regionals.”
High school diploma in hand didn’t mean competitive running was over. He continued on to Schoolcraft College. He was there when Ed Kozloff revived the cross country programs, dormant for almost 20 years. “No one knows why. There was a women’s team, with six full-year scholarships [since abandoned], but no men’s team.”
Scott was interested in joining the reborn team. Kozloff remembered the first day Scott came to practice, in mid-August of 2008. “We went to a middle school track. We planned to warm up, do 800, 400, 800, 400, and cool down. The teammates just met Scott; they didn’t know him.” Kozloff continued with a chuckle, “So, Scott leads the first half mile, then the quarter. It was a hot August day, early practice. I was looking at 80-85 seconds for the first half. Scott comes in at 70! And, the second half, he’s even faster!”
Kozloff recalled that practice and many that followed. “Scott made everyone faster.” With only a few male runners, the men and women often trained together. “The workouts went well. Scott was always at the front.”
It really helped the women’s team. “They ended up 20th nationally…and, in the half marathon championships in Kansas City, with four freshman girls, they were 10th in the nation.”
Scott ran in “ten or eleven meets” that season, with a PR of 30:45 for the 8K college courses. That, Kozloff thought, was a school record for a time. He was the 2008 men’s most valuable runner.
Both Scott and his teammates prospered from their relationship. “He was adopted well by his teammates,” related the coach. “It was a learning experience for everyone. He’s an addition that 99% of other cross country teams never experience. And Scott had to remember new names.”
Kozloff told of the team’s flight to the Disney World Cross Country Classic in 2008. On the plane, teammates “were sleeping or reading magazines. Scott pulls out his math book, doing homework. He shows it to Sue [Kozloff, Ed’s wife, who was a chaperone for the trip] and asked, ‘How’s that look?’” Scott enjoyed the trip. “There were over 1,000 runners and I ran well.”
In 2009, Scott was ineligible to run. The problem had nothing to do with his grades or attendance, but with the number of credit hours he had completed. As an autistic student he had taken the courses required, but those didn’t meet NCAA standards—for non-autistic students. When contacted and the situation was explained, the NCAA reacted with “Oh, we’ve never had a case like this.” While all was being sorted, Kozloff said, “He trained with us and went to meets running unattached. It was almost like he was red-shirted.”
This fall, the women’s team will again be good, likely better, and, with a full stable of runners, the men’s team is “the strongest in 30 years. And Scott will be right in the mix,” Kozloff promised.
His coached emphasized, “He’s extremely focused, with homework and running.” Ken Howse believes the autism helps Scott to focus during races and even workouts. “When it’s time to run, he runs. The autistic are routine-oriented,” he explained. “It helps with running. When Scott comes home, he says ‘This is what I do. It’s time to run.’ And he does.”
Sometimes before races with lots of runners, Scott admits, “I get nervous.” Connie identified it as “anxiety, difficulty of understanding what would be expected of him.” Usually, when the gun goes off, Scott agrees. “I feel a lot better.” Kozloff added, “He really reacts to cheering.”
Scott enjoys running. Away from Schoolcraft, “Sometimes I train alone, sometimes with my brothers.” Often that includes some speed work at the local school track. “Sometimes I go too slow and my brothers get on my case. I do, I have to admit,” he snickered. Like most runners, he varies his workouts—some hills, some fartlek, some repeats. When it’s wet or in the winter, he’ll often stick to the roads, although he likes to run at a neighboring golf course. He also bikes and weight trains,”with the girls,” he laughed.
When not running cross country with Schoolcraft, he does some road races. Among his favorites are the Detroit Turkey Trot, Wayne County Light Fest, and the Run Thru Hell [currently on hold]. For now, though, he’s focused on the upcoming cross country season. “I want to run the best season of my life this fall and qualify for the nationals. I’m planning on it.”
Don’t discount that. Ken Howse admitted what others have discovered, too. “Many, including myself, never thought that he could accomplish this much.” And so he has!