DONNA — When Donna High and San Perlita take to the court tonight, they’ll be wearing their traditional colors of maroon and gold and red and white, but the Donna High school gym will be filled with blue because this game is bigger than basketball.

Blue is the color used to raise awareness about the autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Both programs have been selling blue T-shirts with a puzzle-patterned basketball on the front to raise money and awareness for autism, so they hope to “Blue Out” tonight’s game to continue spreading the message about ASD, which both Donna High head coach Manny Epperson and San Perlita head coach Nataniel Garza are familiar with.

“The idea first came from both Coach Epperson and I because we both have sons that are on the autism spectrum disorder,” Garza said. “I have an 8-year-old son who’s autistic, and we just felt it was a great opportunity for both of us to come together and try to spread awareness for autism and use our platform to help do that. It’s to stress the subject to our teams, and I thought it was a great opportunity for both of us with the common cause that we both have of spreading autism awareness.”

It’s an idea two years in the making for Epperson and Garza.

“We’ve had this idea for about two years because we both have kids on the autism spectrum. We decided let’s make our game a ‘Blue Out’ game, where we raise money and we raise awareness for autism,” Epperson said. “I know Autism month is usually in April, but we’re like let’s go ahead and do it for a basketball game just to raise awareness. We got the kids involved, the players will be reading some facts before the game and presenting a check to Team Mario with money we sold from T-shirts.”

Team Mario is an organization whose mission is “to educate, support and advocate for individuals and families affected by the Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Together, Donna High and San Perlita sold close to 400 shirts.

According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.”

The CDC estimates ASD affects 1 in 59 children in the United States today.

While Epperson and Garza coach their respective teams in fast-paced, intense 32-minute basketball games from November through the spring, being a parent never stops.

“There’s been times where as a parent myself, we go somewhere and people don’t understand that your child may have autism and may be a little bit different. It’s for people out there to understand that people are different, and to understand why they’re different,” Epperson said.

“I can speak from parent’s perspective, when my son goes to school is he getting bullied because he’s different, is he being made fun of because he’s different? At the same time, I feel like if we spread awareness to children and adults around him, it will help understanding him and how he reacts to different situations,” Garza said.

Before the game, the programs will donate funds raised from selling T-shirts to Team Mario. The players will warm up in the blue T-shirts and share knowledge about ASD. Then, one team will win the game, one team will lose, but everyone will leave accomplished having raised awareness for a good cause.

“It’s just about bringing awareness to the kids and to the community, and using basketball as a platform to get it out there. We’re excited about that. We sold about a combined 400 shirts between both programs, so hopefully we can ‘Blue Out’ that gym tomorrow,” Epperson said.

Tip-off between Donna High and San Perlita is slated for 7:30 p.m. at Donna High School. Fans in attendance are encouraged to wear blue to show their support.

“We’re hoping we have a big turnout from both of our communities, to not only support our programs, but it’s like I told my team, I hope they understand what they’re a part of tomorrow, because it’s bigger than basketball. If just one or two more people walk out of our game understanding autism, then we’ve done something,” Garza said.