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Pushing it forward

SV 7th-grader honoring sister’s memory while encouraging Down Syndrome youths through football camp

JACKSON TWP — A seventh-grader at Seneca Valley’s Ryan Gloyer Middle School, Mimi Skowronski has already accomplished plenty in life.

Adam Witucki, a participant in the youth football camp for people with Down Syndrome at Seneca Valley’s NexTier Stadium, gets some tips on how to punt the football from camp volunteer Jayson Beachem.Holly Mead/ Special to the Eagle

She is the first female wrestler in the school district’s history to win a state championship. She’s also been playing football for six years.

Now she’s encouraging Down Syndrome youths to realize their own athletic accomplishments through Giana’s Field of Dreams, a pair of two-hour football camps held Saturday and Sunday morning at Seneca Valley’s NexTier Stadium.

“I take a purpose scenario class and this project is part of that,” Mimi said. “My sister, Giana, had Down Syndrome and died as a miscarriage in 2020. This camp is a way for me to honor my sister’s memory and help others with Down Syndrome get some physical activity through football, a sport I love.”

Chris Deaton and Mimi Skowronski discuss the schedule of events for the football camp for people with Down Syndrome at Seneca Valley’s NexTier Stadium Sunday morning. Mimi, a 7th grade student, organized the event.Holly Mead/ Special to the Butler Eagle

Giana’s Field of Dreams was made available to those with Down Syndrome through Mimi contacting and partnering with the Down Syndrome Association of Pittsburgh. That organization’s administrative program coordinator, Masha Zaldonis, was on hand for the camps.

There were four individuals with Down Syndrome taking part, all 14 and older. They participated in tackling and blocking drills, a relay race, catching, throwing and punting a football, among other activities.

Approximately 20 members of Seneca Valley’s football team, along with the coaching staff, volunteered in helping to run the camp.

Kaylie Swider takes on the tackle wheel during the football camp held at Seneca Valley High School Sunday morning. The camp was for youths with Down Syndrome.Holly Mead/ Special to the Butler Eagle

“You’re off the couch and you’re here,” SV head football coach Ron Butschle said to the participants before the start of Sunday’s camp. “That’s the important thing.”

Zaldonis described her working with Mimi as “a wonderful partnership. We put the word out to the Down Syndrome community that this was going on and we’re very confident this event will grow as it goes.

“Mimi is not only honoring her sister. She’s providing inspiration to a whole lot of people,” Zaldonis added.

Mimi plans to turn Giana’s Field of Dreams into a annual event.

“We’re definitely going to keep on going,” she said. “I know this is going to get bigger and bigger. I want others to benefit through my sister’s name.”

Braden Plyler, a sophomore tight end-defensive end for the Raiders, was among the football players helping out at the camp. His mother is a special education teacher.

“I’ve been around people with mental disabilities,” Braden said. “Support and encouragement mean a lot to them. I wanted to come out and help them. I like to encourage people as much as I can.

“The people who did show up, we wanted to make them feel as welcome as possible, to understand they’re capable of enjoying football like we do.”

Butschle was enthused by seeing so many of his football players turn out for Giana’s Field of Dreams. He was amazed by Mimi herself.

“When I first heard about this, I thought it was somebody’s senior project,” the coach said. “When I found out a seventh-grader got all this started ... Mimi is a special kid. That’s all you can say.

“A lot of kids today are part of the ‘me’ generation ... with social media and everything, it’s all about them. These football players out here today are here of their own free will. They’re being selfless, they’re being leaders. An event like this is a great opportunity for everybody.”

Zaldonis agreed.

“This is unbelievable, the inspiration that is being spread here,” she said. “Things like this strengthen a community ... It’s the power of community.”

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