Sal Fabozzi used his passion for basketball to create opportunities in athletics for young athletes with special needs by starting Because We Can Sports on Staten Island.
“I love the expressions on the kids’ faces and I love basketball. Everything fell into place,” Fabozzi, a 26-year-old parishioner of Holy Family who once played CYO basketball in the Staten Island parish program, told CNY.
Because We Can Sports began three years ago after the success of Fabozzi’s free one-day Coach Fabozzi Cares Special Needs Basketball Clinics, an annual event Fabozzi still runs.
Because We Can Sports offers children ages 5 to 18 the chance to participate in basketball, soccer, football and track and field. Fabozzi, a graduate of St. Peter’s High School on Staten Island, and Anthony Passalacqua, who played his CYO basketball for St. Patrick’s and founded the Shootin’ School Basketball on Staten Island, are the head coaches in the program. Current CYO basketball players volunteer to serve as assistants.
Holy Family, where Fabozzi’s family is still involved in the CYO program, is the home base for Because We Can Sports, which has 70 members.
“These kids have come a long way,” Fabozzi said. “My goal isn’t to advance them in skill but to advance them in life. That to me is more rewarding. I’m very happy with their success but want to see them do other things together in the community.
“What I love is when people walk in and ask me about the program. People are looking to give back. Everyone keeps calling and wanting to help to make the program better for the kids.”
For 2018-2019, Because We Can Sports formed for the first time a two-team basketball league with teams chosen for each game to be played during a day of CYO games on Staten Island. A game consists of four 15-minute quarters with a running clock and substitutes rotating in and out every five minutes. A championship game was held Feb. 24 with all players honored following the game at the CYO Center at Port Richmond.
“This echoes what CYO is all about, and it’s why I brought it to CYO of Staten Island,” said Michael Neely, Staten Island CYO county coordinator. “I just think it’s a credit to Sal, Anthony and the Because We Can Sports staff. You don’t find young people in this day and age as committed as they are to help these young people with special needs.”
Nick Jordan, a 14-year-old parishioner of Our Lady of the Pity on Staten Island, is a CYO basketball player at St. Patrick’s and volunteers with Because We Can Sports.
“I’ve known Sal for a long time and I wanted to do something good for the community,” said Nick, who will be a freshman at Moore Catholic High School on Staten Island in the fall. “When they get a chance to be with a group of people who care and want to teach them, they feel happy, and it makes me feel good.”
Nicholas Siclari is the father of 9-year-old Nicholas, an autistic member of Because We Can Sports for a year.
“When he first started, he was shy and to himself. Now he looks forward to it and if we miss a session, I hear about it,” said Siclari of his son, both parishioners of St. Peter’s on Staten Island. “He’s interacting with the kids. He plays with the kids on the block now, which is something he couldn’t do before. He’s progressed in school, too, being more verbal and interacting with his classmates.
“It’s a great program and I’m happy Holy Family gives the program the opportunity to have it there.”
Donna D’Oria’s 14-year-old son, Matthew, is autistic and has been participating in Because We Can Sports for three years. The D’Orias returned from the Special Olympics New York Winter Games in Rochester, where Matthew was competing in snowshoeing, in time for Matthew to participate in the Because We Can Sports basketball playoff game.
“Sal is amazing with the kids. If you would have told me three years ago my son would be playing in a basketball game, I wouldn’t have believed it,” said Ms. D’Oria, a parishioner of St. Clare’s on Staten Island.
“The games have been amazing to see them from where they were to where they are now.”