DONNA — San Perlita paid a visit to Donna High on Tuesday night for a non-district battle on the hardwood, but it was what happened before the game that mattered most.

Both boys basketball programs from each school teamed up to sell blue shirts to raise awareness about Autism spectrum disorder. Before tip-off, Donna High and San Perlita presented a $1,000 check from funds raised from the T-shirts to Team Mario, an organization that educates, supports and advocates for those affected by Autism.

“What you had here tonight was two great programs coming together for a common cause, which is to spread awareness for Autism,” San Perlita head coach Nataniel Garza said. “The fact that we had fans come in, workers, the players, cheerleaders, everybody wearing the shirts, we did our job tonight.”

Both Garza and Donna High head coach Manny Epperson have sons who are on the Autism spectrum. Before the game, players from each school took turns sharing facts about Autism to a crowd filled with blue shirts.

“This game was bigger than basketball right now. We’re just trying to spread Autism awareness. San Perlita is a basketball town and they all came wearing their shirts,” Epperson said.

Epperson said the entire process helped his players understand his 12-year-old son, who is often around the team and was right in the middle of the picture during the check presentation.

“They learned a little bit on how to understand my son. It’s hard to communicate with the guys, and a lot of times he’s always hitting the guys, but now they understand why — that’s his way of communicating. That’s why they all wanted him to come take that picture with us.”

During the game, Donna High turned up the defensive intensity to force San Perlita into turnovers and picked up some quick buckets on the fast break. Donna raced out to a 44-24 halftime lead and kept up their solid play in the third and fourth quarters to earn a 70-52 victory.

San Perlita was without their standout, Tige Johnson, who missed the game due to a minor ankle injury.

“Regardless of the outcome of tonight’s game, we did our job as far as spreading awareness. As long as a couple people here walk out with more knowledge about Autism, then we’ve done our job here, and hopefully we can continue to spread Autism awareness throughout the community, throughout the Valley and have it spread from there,” Garza said.

bramos@themonitor.com