BY JEFF FALK
Diseases are diseases. Afflictions are afflictions. And illnesses are illnesses. But when they happen to someone we know, or even better someone we care about, they become personal.
The Elco and Lebanon football teams are taking autism personally. Both are treating the disorder seriously because each has close connections to someone who suffers from it.
Saturday night’s non-leauge tilt between the two County foes will represent the third installment of the ‘Attack Autism’ game.
“The game of football is not that signifcant,” said a reflective Mark Evans, Elco’s head coach. “Not only is this a chance to bring two football program together, it’s a chance to bring two communities together. Because 51 weeks out of the year we are friends.”
The inspiration for the ‘Attack Autism’ series is Colby Yonchiuk, the son of Cedar head coach Gerry Yonchiuk who suffers from the disorder.
Yonchiuk and Evans have been friends for years. But three seasons ago, Evans – as he is apt to do – had a bright idea: Why not use the intra-Lebanon County rivalry as a way to bring light to a great cause?
‘Attack Autism’ and a common cause was born.
“I think Gerry would say it was my idea,” said Evans modestly. “It’s something I came up with to raise awareness of autism, and some money along the way. And we’ve done a good job of that.
“Talking with Gerry, who I’m very good friends with, we wanted to do something together, knowing his son has autism. You have kids all over the spectrum. It affects a lot of kids.”
Colby Yonchiuk will serve as Lebanon High’s honorary captain for the game and lead the Cedars out on to the field for the pre-game coin toss. Austin Liskey, son of Elco cheerleading coach Lisa Liskey, will represent the Raiders.
“It’s using footbal as an awareness tool, and there’s some stewardship involved, so it’s more than just a game,” said Evans. “It’s also about giving back and teaching kids there’s more to life than football.”
Autism is a ‘disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior’. Some nine in 1,0000 United States residents are affected by the disorder.
Both teams sold T-shirts and accepted donations for the event. Evans reported that all the money raised will go to aid residents of Lebanon County.
“The kids are into it,” said Evans. “We’ve sold quite a few T-shirts. It’s kind of neat. It’s kind of cool. It just shows there’s a lot of great kids out there.”