LANSING | The annual Civil War football rivalry played between Thornton Fractional South High School and arch-rival T.F. North of neighboring Calumet City usually manages to highlight the differences between the students, the schools and their home communities.
But on Friday, the two south suburban high school football programs played against each other for the 57th time united by a single cause – increased public awareness of autism.
Students at both high schools were given the chance to buy special T-shirts, with proceeds going to the Autism Speaks organization in the name of Mary Anaclerio. She’s the sister of T.F. North assistant football coach Mike Anaclerio, and she died last year at 41 from colon cancer.
She had been diagnosed with autism when she was 3.
Carol Elliott, whose son, Brandon, is a defensive back for T.F. South, said she was pleased to see something as worthy as autism awareness done during a football game.
“I think people are becoming more aware of it because more and more families have a member who is autistic,” she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that one in 88 children has some form of the disorder.
In addition to selling the T-shirts, items of sports memorabilia (including a pair of baseball cleats donated by New York Yankees outfielder – and T.F. South alumnus – Curtis Granderson) were raffled off to raise money. Winners were announced at half-time of the football game.
Chaz Pignatello, the father of T.F. North assistant coach (and one-time Meteors football player) Anthony Pignatello, said he was impressed with the number of people who were buying tickets to support the cause.
“A lot of people are showing their support tonight, and it’s not just one school,” he said. “This really is bringing everybody together.”
Among the decor for Friday at the T.F. South gridiron were signs reading “215 United” and “Autism Speaks.” The Rebels in their bright red and Meteors in purple both wore light blue socks with their uniforms, along with light-blue shoestrings and wristbands. Blue is the color for autism awareness.
Also to boost interest in the issue, the regular 50/50 raffle drawing done at the end of the third quarter of every T.F. South game also had its proceeds donated to the Autism Speaks organization.
Among those who were pleased by the whole spectacle was Kathleen Anaclerio, mother of Mary and Mike, who also helped to found the Crown Point-based In-Pact organization that helps people be able to raise their children with disabilities in their local communities.
“When I learned my daughter was autistic, there was nothing out there in terms of information,” she said. “People are much more knowledgeable now.”
Kathleen said she thinks her late daughter would have enjoyed the spectacle of Friday night’s “North-South” come-together.
“The big crowd, the lights, (Mary) would have liked it, along with a chance to see her brother,” she said.