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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Football helps Challenger athletes grow

By Stephen Hart

December 08, 2009, 10:00AM
staten-island-lions-12-08-09.jpgThe Staten Island Lions, from left: Vincent DeBernardo, Joe Tripodi, Alexa DeAnglis, Sean Quirh, Erica Block , Frankie Celi, Brianna Gaglia, Daniel Block and Pasquale Tulino with coach Rick Clark and daughter Mackenzie, who is the team buddy.
Like many 12-year-olds from around these parts, Daniel Block’s favorite football player is the New York Giants’ Eli Manning. And Daniel even gets to emulate Manning on game days for his flag football squad, sharing quarterback duties with a few of his teammates.

“We share ... and we play together ... and we communicate with each other,” said Block of his football-playing experience.

Block and the rest of the Staten Island Lions enjoy the sport, and the camaraderie that goes with it, as much as the kids who compete for the other youth leagues in the area.

And that’s just one of the reasons why the parents of these Challenger Division athletes are so happy this 2-year-old program is in existence.

“It gives them a sense of purpose, because their whole life is going to therapy,” said Prince’s Bay resident Pat Tulino, whose 12-year-old son Pasquale, a player for the Lions, has a neurological disorder called apraxia.

“This gives them a semblance of being ‘normal'.”

The Challenger Division is geared specifically for boys and girls ages 5 through 15 with a wide range of disabilities. The Staten Island Lions are one of 28 Challenger teams that compete in the Central Jersey Pop Warner League.

Playing flag football “gives these kids that feeling of competition, while having fun at the same time,” noted Michelle Block of Charleston, whose son Daniel has Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.

On Thursday, the group will be having fun competing in the Pop Warner Super Bowl at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Fla. The trip is being sponsored by the Atlas Foundation, Spirit Student Tours and the Antique Auto Club of Staten Island.

“Teams from as far as California will be participating,” said Rick Clark, director of the Challenger program for the Staten Island Lions. “Our kids will play one game on Thursday; it’ll probably be about an hour long.”

Regardless of the length of that game, or the length of the season — which consists of six games from August to December — not only will the memories last but so, too, the positive lessons learned.

For Eden Quirk of Tottenville, that includes improved social skills for her 10½-year-old son Sean, who has a rare genetic disease called tuberous sclerosis.

“While school is something that’s completely structured for them, this is only partially so. One of the best things about this is the kids get a lot of exercise,” said Eden, whose son can hear but communicates through sign language.

“He really doesn’t understand being competitive; he just knows he’s running around the field with his friends, chasing after a flag and having fun.”

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