Autism Speaks Joins Campaign For NJ Football Player

ROBBINSVILLE, NJ (March 11, 2013) -- Autism Speaks today joined with supporters of Anthony Starego, a New Jersey high school football placekicker with autism, in urging state athletic officials to grant him one more year of eligibility to play. Starego's game-winning kick last fall became the subject of the ESPN video Kick of Hope.

Starego has developed "a skill and a talent that allow him an opportunity to belong to a group of peers where he is respected and valued for what he can do – not what he can’t do," said Peter Bell, Autism Speaks' executive vice president of programs and services. Bell (center, below, with Starego and his parents Ray and Reylene)appeared before the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) which will rule on Starego's eligibility to continue playing.

A dozen placekickers with the National Football League, former Philadelphia Eagle Rep. Jon Runyon who represents Starego's Congressional District, the Rutgers University athletic director Tim Pernetti, and Starego's principal, teacher and coach at Brick High School were among the supporters urging the NJSIAA to allow Starego to continue playing high school football after he turns age 19 this summer. Under federal and state educational and disabilities law, Starego can continue to attend Brick High School until he is 21.

"Routine is essential to most people with autism and football has clearly become a positive routine in Anthony’s life," Bell said. "Taking that away from him could produce a negative impact on the remaining years of his high school career or even produce an adverse consequence on his adult life. Why risk affecting his future?"

Bell noted the irony that Starego lives in Brick Township, NJ, where concerns over an "autism cluster" in the late 1990s raised by a group of parents first brought the issue of autism's soaring incidence into the national spotlight. The Congressman who represented Brick at that time, Rep. Chris Smith, went on to sponsor critical federal legislation affecting the autism community, including the Children's Health Act, which created the National Center for Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) within the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the $693 million reauthorization of the Combating Autism Act enacted in 2011.