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Local foundation’s Wild West Shootout helps University’s Autism Program


This year’s tournament will feature a J.K. Metzker Memorial Game and tribute to Metzker by Mike Alger 

RENO, Nev. – The University of Nevada, Reno’s highly acclaimed Early Childhood Autism Program is getting some help from the Sierra Kids Foundation next week, Dec. 14 – 17, when the foundation sponsors the annual Wild West Shootout basketball tournament at Bishop Manogue Catholic High School to fund scholarships for children needing the services of the very successful program. More than $110,000 in scholarships has been given away over the past eight years, according to Patrick Ghezzi, director of the program and Nevada psychology professor.

The Tournament

The tournament will feature six tough northern Nevada high school teams – Galena, Douglas, Reno, Hug, Manogue and North Valleys – as well as five strong teams from California, Washington and Idaho. Long Beach Poly High was ranked as high as second in the country last year, the Lakes High team won the Washington state championship last year, and Buchanan High in California is now coached by former McQueen and Reno High coach, Eric Swain, who says his Buchanan High team is “the best team I’ve ever coached.”

The year’s tournament will also include the J.K. Metzker Memorial Game at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 15. The game will feature Bishop Manogue taking on Post Falls, which finished fourth in Idaho last year. KTVN Channel 2 Weatherman Mike Alger will be on hand for a special tribute to Metzker, who was killed Nov. 18 when crossing the street after a basketball game.

Other tournament highlights also include the 3-Point Shooting Contest at 7:20 p.m., Dec. 15, and the Slam Dunk Contest at 7:20 p.m., Dec. 16. Tournament games run 3 – 8 p.m., Dec. 14; 3 – 9:30 p.m., Dec. 15; 1:30 – 9:30 Dec. 16; and noon – 6:30 p.m., Dec. 17. Daily admission is $8 for adults and $5 for students. Four-day passes are $27 for adults and $20 for students. For more information, go to http://www.wildwestshootout.org/.

The University’s Early Childhood Autism Program

The University’s Early Childhood Autism Program works mostly with 2- to 5-year-olds, spending a minimum of 30 hours per week one-on-one with each child for at least two years. Graduate students and undergraduate students studying applied behavioral analysis staff the program, under faculty supervision, employing positive reinforcement techniques that strengthen appropriate behavior and eliminate inappropriate behavior.

The program was a breakthrough in education and treatment for preschool children with autism when it began 17 years ago. It is one of only a handful of such university-based programs in the country, and its faculty are called upon by others throughout the world who want to establish similar programs for their autistic children. Last year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported that one in 110 children are diagnosed with autism.

“This technique is wildly successful, and the world needs more of it to be available,” Ghezzi said, explaining that all the children in the program show improvement, and about 50 percent show total recovery – meaning they are indistinguishable from their peers when they enter elementary school, the ultimate goal.

The University’s Early Childhood Autism Program is part of the psychology department’s Behavior Analysis Program, which earlier last year was awarded the prestigious “Enduring Programmatic Contribution Award” by the Society for Advancement of Behavior Analysis International, the recognized worldwide behavior analysis organization. In the 37 years the organization has presented awards, only five academic programs in the world have been honored as Nevada’s program was honored this year, for its sustained contributions to behavioral science via teaching, scholarship, research and service.

Ghezzi says the program’s groundbreaking work in autism has been very rewarding, and he’s grateful to all those who support the program.

“The Sierra Kids Foundation and the Wild West Shootout fundraiser help us to help families in the area who can’t afford this labor-intensive treatment for their children with autism,” Ghezzi said. “The Shootout is a lot of fun and also raises awareness of autism in general, so it’s a win-win for everyone.”

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Nevada’s land-grant university founded in 1874, the University of Nevada, Reno has an enrollment of 18,000 students and is ranked in the top tier of the nation’s best universities. Part of the Nevada System of Higher Education, the University has the system’s largest research program and is home to the state’s medical school. With outreach and education programs in all Nevada counties and with one of the nation’s largest study-abroad consortiums, the University extends across the state and around the world. For more information, visit www.unr.edu.


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