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Feature Stories July 11, 2013  RSS feed

Two Sporting Events To Benefit Autistic Children

Fund-Raisers Held In Middle Village
by Max Jaeger

Children with Autism play at a sporting event in Ogden, Utah that was organized by New Yorkbased Play4Autism, which is holding two fund-raisers in Middle Village in upcoming weeks. Children with Autism play at a sporting event in Ogden, Utah that was organized by New Yorkbased Play4Autism, which is holding two fund-raisers in Middle Village in upcoming weeks. Residents in and around Middle Village will have the opportunity to support a good cause while learning about autism at two fund-raisers this month.

The benefits will be held at Pat’s Sports Bar, located at 73-13 Metropolitan Road in Middle Village.

Proceeds will go to the Play4Autism Foundation, which helps teach autism-spectrum children social and physical skills through free team sports, art, music and acting classes, according to Greg Vasicek, who heads the charity.

Darts afficionados can test their aim during a 50/50 darts tournament to be held at 3 p.m., July 13. The entry fee is $20—winners take half the pot and a trophy, while the other half goes to the Play4Autism Foundation. Starting at 7 p.m., there will be food, a 50/50 raffle and live music performed by GOJOE.

Autism awareness will be the catch of the day, Aug. 4, when Play4Autism and Pat’s Sports Bar host a fishing tournament for 45 area anglers.

Event-goers will set sail from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on a boat provided by the foundation. A $75-dollar entry fee gets you transportation to the boat, a rod and reel, first rig and bait. Plus Pat (of Pat’s Sports Bar) will be serving refreshments on the boat. The bus leaves from Pat’s at 7 a.m., and tickets can be purchased by stopping by the bar or going to www.play4autism.org. As of press time, 25 people have signed up for the fishing tournament, Vasicek said.

For Vasicek, the events are less about raising money and more about brining awareness to people whose lives haven’t been touched by autism, he said.

“This is as much for the public at large as it is for families” with autism-spectrum kids, he said.

Vasicek has been tabling at local events for the last few years in order to disseminate information about the cognitive disease, and he said events scheduled for this month will be as informative as they are fun.

Before Play4Autism, Vasicek played professional hockey overseas, he said. When he returned to the states, he got involved in advocacy.

“I have a 13-year-old nephew who is on the autism spectrum, and I wanted to give something back,” he said.

When a 2011 charity basketball game he helped organize was scrapped due to the NBA players strike, Vasicek struck out on his own.

“I decided to cut out the middle man, and I haven’t looked back since,” he said.

Later that year, he founded Play4Autism, which operates in New York and Michigan and will be expanding to Connecticut, New Jersey and Texas in the coming months, he said.

The program offers free instruction in sports and the arts designed to help with communication and social interaction skills, Vasicek said. There is only a one-time, $75 administration fee to help fund the program and give parents an incentive to keep bringing their kids, he noted.

Class sizes are be limited to about 10 kids per instructor to ensure that children receive sufficient attention, he noted.

Before enrolling kids, the foundation asks families to fill out a questionnaire so instructors can better understand students’ specific needs, he said.

According to Vasicek, about 50 families in and around Middle Village are currently enrolled with the Foundation.

Maria Manfredi, who lives in Maspeth, said she had been looking for a way to get her son Phillip involved in martial arts or baseball, but she had trouble finding a place where her son, who is on the autism spectrum, could play with similar children or receive one-on-one training.

She met Vasicek, who was tabling at an event at. St. Margaret Catholic School, and signed her son up for karate lessons, which are being taught in conjunction with the Tiger Schulmann mixed martial arts facility on Woodhaven Boulevard, she said.

Vasicek has been accommodating to her son’s special needs, Manfredi said. When she told Vasicek her son couldn’t make it to classes because he had school, Vasicek set out to change the class times for kids who couldn’t make earlier sessions.

As the foundation continues to grow, each step is a victory, Vasicek said.

For instance, Vasicek said a child that enrolled in the Michigan program has “serious sensory issues.”

“You couldn’t even touch him on the shoulder,” Vasicek said. “But within 10 minutes, I had my hands on his showing him how to hold a hockey stick.”

“If it’s going to put a smile on a kid’s face, I’ll do it,” he said.