(Editor’s note: This article was submitted after the Port Allegany Football Team held their Down Syndrome Awareness Night during Friday’s game against Redbank Valley.)
PORT ALLEGANY — Justin Bienkowksi, head coach of the Port Allegany High School football team, enlisted the help of the local football boosters organization to host a Down Syndrome Awareness Night at Gator Field.
During practice, rehearsals were held for Friday’s pre-game ceremony, which honored special guests from the Port Allegany School District – three children with Down syndrome. Running in the middle of the field in front of the Gator football team, the children received “We are Family” posters signed by the team and held the national anthem flag.
A full-page article on Down syndrome appeared on Friday’s football show and facts about Down syndrome were announced at the pre-match ceremony. The following was announced during the game:
October is designated as National Down Syndrome Awareness Month, and the blue and yellow balloons at Gator Field raised awareness and celebrated the Down Syndrome community.
The Port Allegany Gator Football Program would like to recognize a few of our own who warm our hearts, make us laugh and change our lives for the better every day.
Ray Fox is the son of Stan and Tammy Fox and the brother of Josh and Laura Fox. Ray is a senior at Port Allegany High School. He likes hunting as well as riding his horses and his quad.
Brooke Schelander is Robin and Cory Schelander’s daughter and big sister to Jase, who is a very proud and supportive brother. Brooke is a fourth grade student at Port Allegany Elementary School. She enjoys side-by-side walks, loves horses, swimming, and riding a bike without training wheels. This makes his parents incredibly proud.
Cameron Ernst is the son of Chris and Abbey Ernst and younger brother of Andrew Ernst. Cameron is in first grade at Port Allegany Elementary School. Cam likes tractors, four-wheelers and side-by-sides. He plays football and baseball. Cam is a huge fan of Charlie Brown and Scooby Doo.
As Denise Evens, parent of Port quarterback Drew Evens, said, “My heart was full Friday night for a lot of reasons. Winning the game, of course, and also hearing the appreciation from the parents of those kids…and seeing their smiling faces as they led the team (into the field) top of mind.
In an email thanking the football boosters organisation, Bienkowski said: “Friday night was a special night for many reasons, but none more important than raising awareness for a wonderful cause. These three children will always remember Friday night and it has a lot to do with (our football family) and what they did to make it special.
Down syndrome is the most commonly diagnosed chromosomal disorder in the United States. In the United States, approximately 6,000 babies are born with the condition each year. Down syndrome occurs in one in 700 babies born each year.
There are three types of Down syndrome: trisomy 21, translocation and mosaicism.
Ninety-five percent of babies born with Down syndrome will be born with trisomy 21, which means an extra copy of the 21st chromosome, and is not hereditary. Translocation and mosaicism are less frequent and represent the remaining 5%.
Down syndrome occurs randomly during pregnancy. There is nothing the parent does or does not do that causes the extra genetic material to appear. Researchers still know very little about the causes of Down syndrome or its course.
Down syndrome can affect the development of a baby’s body and brain. This can cause mental and physical problems for the baby. However, cognitive delays are often mild to moderate, and services such as early intervention (EI) are often initiated soon after birth.
These services include speech therapy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and early intervention education. These different therapies help give the baby and parent the right tools to work towards and achieve milestones.
School-age children born with Down syndrome are often in classes alongside their typical peers. Inclusion is so important to everyone because it teaches compassion, understanding and patience from an early age. Friendships are formed early by creating a strong bond.
Children born with Down syndrome are at higher risk for heart problems, gastrointestinal problems, respiratory problems and hearing difficulties, to name a few. However, thanks to advanced medical technology, surgeries are often less invasive and very effective.
These children are capable of leading a long and healthy life. They play sports, are active in their communities and contribute to society.
Children with Down syndrome are more alike than different. Get to know someone who carries the extra chromosome. They will warm your heart, make you laugh and change your life for the better.
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