ST. JOHN | When Nic Rossi was an infant, he was diagnosed with failure to thrive. Now, the 15-year-old Lake Central High School freshman is thriving.
Nic, who is in a special needs program, also serves as student assistant coach on the girls basketball team.
Coach Marc Urban is family friends with Nic, and when Nic's father, Ron Rossi, asked if there was room on the team for a student manager, Urban welcomed Nic aboard.
"All Nic thinks about or talks about is Lake Central girls basketball," his father said. "The girls treat him great. As parents, our goal was to surround him with a peer group of people who kind of had his back a little bit and watch out for him. He could be a very easy target to the wrong group of people."
But the Dyer teen seems to be in the right group, one that relies on him before and during games. Urban gave him responsibilities that he is expected to meet.
"He's very athletic," Urban said. "It helps with practices and rebounding."
And during the game, he keeps the water bottles filled and clears the white board, Urban said.
"He just wants to be part of a team, part of the organization," Ron Rossi said. "He has just embraced the whole concept. He will try to do whatever Marc asks him to do."
Nic's uncle even bought him his own dry erase clipboard, Urban said.
"The girls are all nice to me," Nic said.
The teen's passion for sports has not been slowed by his medical issues, his father said.
When he was born, he appeared healthy. But he couldn't gain weight, and doctors put him on a feeding tube for 3 1/2 years. He worked with a host of therapists, who cautioned his parents that he likely would have some speech and developmental issues.
"Nic never really developed on a scale where he should have," Ron Rossi said. "He started school and, right from the start, some things just challenged Nic all the time."
He has traveled all over the country, seeing teams of doctors and genetic specialists. And although he displays some symptoms similar to autism, doctors have ruled it out.
"The hard part for us, as parents, is he was never really diagnosed with anything," Rossi said. "At least if they identified his illness, we'd be able to plan a little bit. But, it's just not that cut and dry."
Nic was brought to the University of Chicago as a child for observation during a conference for all top genetic specialists in the world.
"The doctor said, 'All of these specialists cannot pinpoint what Nic's diagnosis is,'" Rossi said.
The doctor said new syndromes are named all the time. And, down the road, if a syndrome is named that matches Nic's case, it may be named after him.
"I feel a lot better," Nic said.
He is in a tailored program at school. When his finishes, he will receive a certificate of completion. Then, he hopes to participate in a transition to adulthood program, where he can master life skills, such as shopping and balancing a check book, Ron Rossi said.
"He excels at reading and at history," Rossi said.
Aside from school, Nic's focus doesn't wane from girls basketball.
"The good thing about Nic is he's passionate. He's trustworthy. He's honest. He's sociable," his father said. "He gravitates toward these type of situations, like the girls basketball team. It gives him a sense of family, a sense of belonging."
Nic has high hopes for his first season with the girls team.
"I want to see them win state," he said.