If you’ve been to a Moorestown High School boys basketball game recently, you’ve probably been met by a pulsing rhythm before you even walked through the door. There’s a palpable energy in the room as the music elevates the charged air of excitement.
And who’s behind that beat? At the helm of the pregame playlist is Blake Rouen, a 12-year-old DJ with autism.
Rouen’s first encounter with a DJ came around five years ago. His mother, Polly Tremoulet, said she and her son had gone to an obstacle course fundraiser at Moorestown High School, but Rouen didn’t have the fine or gross motor skills to fully participate. There was a DJ there though, and he was instantly fascinated.
“It was like a moth to a flame,” Tremoulet recalled.
Rouen was hesitant to get close because the music was so loud, but the DJ’s girlfriend took notice and brought him nearer. By the end of the event, the DJ had shown Rouen how to do a bit of scratching and informed Tremoulet that her son had a real knack for it. He encouraged her to forego toys and get her son some DJ equipment for Christmas.
A few months later, Rouen woke to DJ equipment on Christmas morning. He’s been perfecting the craft ever since.
When he was 9, his father, Greg Rouen, took him to a DJ expo in Philadelphia where the pair met some professional DJs who invited Blake to some local disc jockey cafes. Tremoulet said all the DJs they’ve met along the way have been nothing short of supportive: they’re always encouraging and willing to let Blade test out their equipment.
Blake Rouen is self taught and has learned largely by observing other DJs in person or on YouTube. Tremoulet said her son watches and listens and has developed a sense of timing on his own.
While DJ-ing is Rouen’s most recent interest, basketball was his first love. When he was in fourth grade, Tremoulet was upset about the bullying her son experienced. She crossed paths with a parent who was coaching a boys travel basketball team and invited Rouen to be part of the team.
By sixth grade, the games progressed to a point of competition where Rouen could no longer participate, but the sport had done wonders for his social life, according to Tremoulet.
His paraprofessional Sue Calhoun saw the social impact basketball had on Rouen and recently suggested combining the two worlds. She reached out to MHS coach Shawn Anstey and suggested Rouen be the DJ at basketball games. Anstey had Rouen as a student at the Upper Elementary School, and the coach was immediately on board.
This basketball season, Rouen became an unofficial member of the team. Tremoulet said the players immediately welcomed him and accepted him as one of their own. They gave him a jersey to wear, and Rouen is announced at the beginning of each game along with the player lineup.
At the end of each game, the players cheer for him.
“The players love him; they accepted him the first day he came out,” Anstey said. “He’s part of our team now.
“He does a great job of pumping our kids up.”
The players provide Rouen with a list of songs, and he and his father spend hours crafting the playlist from their suggestions.
“I want to get them pumped,” Rouen said with a wide smile spreading across his face.
Tremoulet said she’s grateful to Moorestown’s athletic leadership for serving as such great role models, and the entire experience has been a “huge gift” to Rouen and the family.
“It’s his two passions: basketball and music together,” Tremoulet noted. “It’s his opportunity to be part of a team but also contribute in a meaningful way.”
And the games aren’t Rouen’s only gigs. The Moorestown Parks and Recreation Department was looking for someone to DJ its Friday night volleyball games and recruited Rouen.
“Since he was 7 and verbal enough to say he wanted to be a DJ, this is where he belongs,” Tremoulet said. “I always say since communication impairment is part of autism, music is his social currency.”