Autistic student puts up points for football team

September 5, 2010 (DOWNERS GROVE)

Last year, Danny Catalano, 16, had the time of his life.

Playing on the Downers Grove South Mustangs' sophomore team was a dream come true.

"He played on defense, he was one of our linebackers," said sophomore head coach Mark Wiggins. "But most of all, we got him in some running back and we were able to get him a touchdown."

Despite Danny's disability, Wiggins said they accept anyone who tries out for the team.

"When I did first meet him - ball of joy - I mean the kid, you know, he smiles from ear to ear, he knows everything about football, and to have that type of - to have that type of person out on the field and at practice every day, he brings excitement not only to the kids but to the coaches," said Wiggins.

Mom Cathy Hiatt knew something was wrong with her son when he was very young.

"Through different testing we found out that he's PDD, which is Pervasive Development Delay, which means in some ways he's like a 10-year-old, and some ways he's like a 12-year-old, and some ways he's like a 16-year-old," said Hiatt. "He also has ADHD, which is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and it falls under the spectrum of autism."

"The most challenging thing, fine motor skills are challenging. Dan still can't ride a two wheel bicycle balance. His handwriting skills are weak," said Hiatt.

However, he does well when it comes to playing football. Teammate Danny Leach remembers the day Danny Catalano scored his first touchdown.

"We were up a lot of touchdowns, so the time was right to do this, and before the kickoff at halftime, he told me to step out at the one yard line - it's up to me if I want to do that, but if I do that, we can get Danny a score, and sure enough, it happened," said Leach

"I don't think I've ever seen him happy or anyone else - people were in tears, coaches were in tears, his dad was in tears, and I don't think anyone ever been happier all season long," said Leach.

This year, things are going to be different for Danny.

"It's gonna be a lot different because the game is a lot faster at the JV and varsity level, reaction time is gonna have to be a lot quicker, and again it's gonna have to be situational where he goes in," said Wiggins.

Danny is not backing down. In fact, he has long-term goals to play college football.

"I prefer to go to Ohio State after high school... that's where I wanted to go," said Catalano.

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