The March 2013 edition of “High School Today” cover story was titled, “Sports Participation Opportunities for Students with Disabilities.”
The following three football players are great examples of including students with disabilities in high school athletics.
J.T. Astalos - Greensburg Central Catholic High School (Greensburg, PA)
Astalos is legally blind in his left eye. He contracted a parasite that attacked his cornea between his freshman and sophomore season while swimming in a pool with his contacts in. The parasite got between his eye and his contact.
“I was told it was a 1 in 2 million chance that I contracted it,” Astalos said to Paul Schofield of the “Tribune-Review.” “I went to the doctors and was originally getting treated for pink eye. But an ulcer developed on the pupil and screwed up my cornea. They told me I was lucky, because if I waited any longer, the infection might have killed me.”
Astalos was not allowed to play in his sophomore season; he was still being treated. Rob Fitzpatrick, a trainer, helped Astalos with his rehab working to improve his depth perception. For his junior season, he played tight end and defensive end and caught one touchdown pass. This season he will be playing split end and right outside linebacker.
Astalos’s condition requires that he wear a tinted shield on his helmet to reduce the glare from the stadium lights.
Koni Dole – Huntley Project High School (Worden, MT)
Dole is returning to play after having the portion of his right leg below the knee amputated.
In the final game of the 2012 season, he snapped his leg. He went through several surgeries, but suffered an infection that damaged his leg beyond repair.
Dole chose amputation because it would improve his chances of playing athletics. He wrestled for Huntley Project just three months after his surgery and ran track in the spring. He aspires to play at Montana State, who has offered him a preferred walk-on football scholarship.
According to KTVQ in Billings, Mont., Dole has been cleared to play and recorded two touchdowns and one sack in his first game.
Geno Policicchio – Dearborn Divine Child High School (Dearborn, MI)
Policicchio, due to a birth defect that affected his right arm, only has one hand. His right arm ends at his elbow. Steve Robb, the physical education teacher and football coach noticed his athleticism during gym class one day when he grabbed a basketball with one hand and was running around the court.
Coach Robb was determined to get Policicchio on the football team. “’I talked to him about his athletic prowess and he told me about what he had done in sports, saying he played football before in grade school, and I said, ‘There’s no reason you still can’t play football,’ Robb said in an interview with David Goricki of The Detroit News.”
Policicchio earned a sport on special teams and gave up a spot on the soccer team to play football instead. He also plays basketball and baseball.
Robb said it best, “Really he’s an inspiration to me, and if he’s an inspiration to me, I know he is to his teammates, too.”
Megan Filipowski is a 2013 fall intern in the NFHS Publications/Communications Department. She is a graduate student at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis studying sports journalism. She graduated from Spring Arbor University (Michigan) in May 2013.