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With only seconds left on the clock, seventh grade student, Nick Grippo completes the shot that would make any parent proud, he sinks a basket at the buzzer and drives the crowd to its feet. For parent Denise Grippo, the play was more than she could have ever hoped for; her son Nick is autistic.
Nick is part of the William T. Rogers Middle School boys basketball team. He had expressed interest earlier in the year about playing and Todd White a special education teacher and coach for the school, along with Nick’s classroom teacher, approached Denise about letting Nick play.
“He’s having the time of his life, he’s part of a team. Everybody knows his name and for a child with autism, that’s really great,” said Denise.
The play that brought the crowd to their feet was captured by a teammate on a cell phone, as was the cameraman’s utter elation as he cheered and dropped the phone.
The coach had designed a play called the “Nick play”, said Jennifer Greco, a paraprofessional who assists Nick on the team.
“The boys, standing on the side do an inbound pass to one of the boys, Nick runs around another player and they pass to Nick,” said Greco whose cell camera was used to capture the moment.
It was the first time they had ever done the play during a game.
“They start setting the play up and the crowd starts chanting his name, then the cheerleaders chant his name,” said Greco. “They pass it to Nick, he shoots and scores and the crowd goes wild. After each win, Nick does the Conga line into the locker room. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”
It was something out of a movie, said his mom Denise.
“The boys, I can’t say enough about them,” she said. “Just awesome. They’ve taken him under their wing and made him part of the team. The parents should be so proud they have raised such wonderful, wonderful boys.”
I have a great deal of respect for the coaches who understand that team sports like football, should be above everything else, fun. Sports should be about being with friends, doing your best, and after it’s all said and done, leave you with pride and a sense of belonging. Like a family on the Spectrum, sports takes a great deal of effort, gives a sense of family, and leaves you with memories that will last a lifetime. Additionally if done correctly and well, sports helps to develop a person’s personality, perseverance and commitment as they grow older.
Sports, especially football, has been used as a metaphor for life. This is no different for families affected by autism. -Ed
“I like it a lot,” Justin said.
But Justin is different than the rest of his teammates: he has Autism Spectrum Disorder.
“Justin is the sweetest boy,” said his mother Crystal Haacke.
Justin and his family have battled the challenges that come with Autism. Communication and social interaction can be very difficult for him, but the game of football has helped with that.
“Afterwards, when the practice is over, when the game is over you see him get to play with all these kids,” Crystal Haacke said. “And they love Justin so much, and they think Justin is so much fun. And he doesn’t necessarily interact with a lot of people that way.”
Football has also allowed Justin to spend more time with his father, who also happens to be his coach.
“He does his best and goes out there and plays as hard as he can,” said his father Chris Haacke. “Even though he has his limitations he still gives 110 percent on the football field. As a football coach, and a dad, that’s all you can ask for from your son.”
“It’s been a really fun thing for him to be with his dad,” Crystal Haacke said.
As much as playing the game has meant to him and his family, the effects of the disorder have made it too difficult for Justin to continue to play. Due to safety concerns, his parents made the difficult decision that this season would be his last.
Knowing Justin would be playing his last game, his father had an idea; he wanted it to be a moment Justin would never forget.
Mountain View faced Juan Diego on October 20, and Chris Haacke approached the Juan Diego coach and told him about his idea.
“We would like to set up a play for one of our players who has Autism,” Haacke told the coach. “We would like to have him run for a touchdown and let him go out with a bang.”
The Juan Diego coach agreed and ran the play.
“I ran to the end zone and the other coaches said, ‘Hey, Justin, here’s the play. You’re going to get the ball, and you’re going to run to the end zone and run right for your dad,’ ” Chris Haacke remembers.
With a little help from his mother’s cheers, Justin took the handoff, ran to the right and followed his blockers into the end zone.
“Nobody even tackled me because I was too fast,” Justin said.
“Oh wow,” his mother said about watching Justin’s touchdown run. “That moment was great.”
It was a moment his parents and many of those in attendance will never forget.
“The pure joy on his face when he got in there and both teams surrounded him and patted him on the head and were cheering for him. It was overwhelming,” Chris Haacke remembers
“I don’t know if anything else that we could have done for him would have given him that moment,” Crystal Haacke said. “Where he was just the best in that moment that he could have been, that he ever will be.”
The family hopes that moment can inspire others and spread awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorder.
“Autism is hard,” Crystal said. “but there is so many joyful things that come. That experience showed me how many people out there really, really, really just are good and they want a little boy to feel good in that moment.”
“I’m so happy when we win,” Justin said. “That’s my favorite.”
On that day in October, everyone involved was a winner — a moment of sportsmanship at it’s finest. It’s a moment his parents hope he can turn to as he tackles the challenges of autism in the future.
“The funnest part of football?” Justin says, “Win and never give up.”
BRICK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A high school student with autism becomes a hero on the football field. Sounds like a good movie doesn’t it? Well, it’s a true story.
The score was tied with just 21 seconds left on the clock Friday night. Out trotted Brick High School’s Anthony Starego, an 18-year-old kicker who’s used to facing adversity.
Starego was orphaned at the age of 3 and then grew up with a long list of developmental issues. So when he jogged out on the field to attempt a game-winning field goal against favored Toms River North, one couldn’t blame him if he didn’t feel overwhelmed by the moment.
What happened next was something usually reserved for Hollywood. He split the uprights and the place went crazy. But there was nothing ordinary about that kick. It was a lifetime in the making, CBS 2′s Otis Livingston reported Tuesday.
“As soon as the officials went like this, I was a blubbering idiot,” father Ray Starego said, demonstrating the hand movement for a successful field goal.
“I was just crying, but I wasn’t going to stop watching him because he was just jumping for joy. It really was unbelievable,” added Reylene Starego, Anthony’s mother.
If being the hero Friday night put Starego at the top of the mountain, his entire life has been an uphill battle getting there.
“When he came to us, he had been through 11 foster homes and he had had some difficulties. He had about six words to his vocabulary,” Reylene Starego said.
“He had kidney reflux; he had an asthmatic condition. Basically, it was a special needs adoption that we had gone through,” Ray Starego added.
Symptoms of autism include children performing repeated body movements. They often experience unusual distress when routines are changed, but those are the same traits that make Anthony a successful kicker.
“Fifty times a day, that’s all he does. Just three steps back, one over and he hits the ball. That’s what he knows and that’s what he did,” coach Kurt Weiboldt said.
Anthony Starego agreed. As far as he’s concerned, practice makes perfect.
“I do the same thing over and over again. It helps me a lot, and I’m having the best day of my life,” he said.
Children with autism also have trouble with social interactions, so making friends isn’t easy, but the football field is different. It’s a safehaven.
“[Anthony is] just the man. He’s always happy, always puts a smile on your face,” Brick High quarterback Brendan Darcy said.
Anthony said he doesn’t think of himself as being different than his teammates. He said he just has a job to do.
“I feel like I’m happy and calm and enjoying myself when I kick. [It’s] the time of my life,” he said.
The Green Dragons’ only two wins of the season have come since Anthony became the kicker. He’s perfect on kicks, including that game winner. Their next game is this Friday against Lacey High School.
- High school kicker with autism makes game-winning field goal (todaynews.today.com)
When senior safety Ryan Hopt pulled in a late interception during South Salem (Ore.) High’s 72-19 rout of McKay (Ore.) High, it could seem like one of the least significant turnovers of the season for his South Salem squad. In reality it may have been the most important, albeit for very unique reasons.
As reported by the Salem Statesman Journal, Hopt is a high school player who happens to be autistic. He has spent four years as part of the South Salem football program, rising to his role as a third string safety now in his final high school season. On Friday, Hopt got on the field and made the most of his playing time, pulling in an interception that brought instant delirium to his South Salem teammates and fans in the crowd.
“He practices with us every day,” South Salem coach Scott DuFault told the Statesman Journal. “He plays scout team safety part of the time. They threw the ball, he caught it. He’s an awesome kid. He’s been in our program for four years. He’s one of us.
“You saw the celebration. They went nuts. It’s been that way since he was a freshman. He’s in my son’s class and so I’ve gotten to know him really well. He comes to all of the practices, all the workouts, and he’s one of our guys. Every time he gets a chance to play our kids are excited, and so they went nuts tonight.”
While Hopt has become just one of the guys on the South Salem football team, he spends most of his time during the school day in life skills classes, aimed at easing his transition into society once he graduates. He goes through team practices and workouts just like anyone else on the team, even if he spends most of his time as a member of the South Salem scout team, charged with trying to prepare the traditional starters for their assignments in the coming week’s game.
Despite that limited role, Hopt always maintained that he would make a big play at some point during his senior year, even if his parents and friends reacted to that proclamation with a healthy dose of skepticism.
On Friday, Hopt delivered on his prognostication, leaving his parents almost speechless in the process.
“He’s told me he was going to work really hard and try to do something like that,” Jody Hopt, Ryan’s mother, told the Statesman Journal. “I thought, okay. I figured it was him. It’s so important for him to be like everybody else because he has autism. To me it was a shock. I was like, oh my gosh.
“I’ll tell you, the South Salem football team has embraced him.”
On Friday, that embracing emotion came in the form of literal hugs, celebrating a crowning moment in a fulfilling prep football career for a dedicated teen with autism.
Brownsburg East’s 7th Grade football team helped make a dream come true for one of their teammates Tuesday night.
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Lori Birr is just one of the many proud football moms at East.
“He’s autistic and has practiced with his team all season,” said Lori Birr.
Tyler Birr loves being on the field.
“Yeah. I like football.”
Tyler wears #87 for his favorite player.
“I picked this number because of Reggie Wayne.”
Lori Birr said her son is just like any other 7th grade boy.
“He dreams big. He dreams of being Reggie Wayne. He dreams of going to the NFL. He dreams just like any other child.”
Coach Chad Hoskins made the call to give Tyler his chance.
“He’s been out at every practice. He’s practiced all year long with us. So we thought our final game against West would be his chance to come out.”
The last play before half time Tyler ran out on the field. He got the ball and ran in a touchdown with both teams cheering for him.
Fox59 talked to Tyler after the TD.
“It was amazing.”
Lori said the game was about more than football.
“It touches my heart because he wants to be like the other children and today he got to be.”
Lori said it was a dream come true for both Tyler and her.
“It’s a day he’ll never, ever, ever forget and I wanna thank everybody.”