Powder Puff football aims to tackle autism

Two years ago, Breanne Romeo’s brother, Nicholas, was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.

“He was diagnosed at 12, which is very late for someone with autism,” she said.

So, Romeo organized the Powder Puff flag football tournament, which will be held Sunday at Stambaugh Stadium. The tournament — in conjunction with Saturday’s autism walk — is expected to raise $10,000 for Autism Speaks, an autism science and advocacy organization.

“He was my motivation for doing this whole thing,” Breanne Romeo said.

Tammy Romeo, the siblings’ mother, said she “always knew something was wrong.”

“He looked normal,” Tammy Romeo said. “I never thought about it until I came to YSU.”

Tammy Romeo said that before her son was diagnosed, she noticed that he had “compulsive issues” and problems with controlling his anger.

“Playing sports, he got angry about things that a child without autism wouldn’t,” Tammy Romeo said.

Nicholas Romeo attends Youngstown Christian School, where he is provided with a specialist who assists him.

“The specialist is there to help him though his meltdowns,” Breanne Romeo said. “So, if he gets angry and goes to throw a desk, someone is there to take him away to a separate room and calm him down.”

Nicholas Romeo also receives grant money through the Autism Scholarship Program. The grant is awarded by the Ohio

Department of Education and gives parents who have children with autism “the choice to send the child to a special education program other than the one operated by the school district of residence,” according to the ODE’s website.

Despite the grant not coming from a charity like Autism Speaks, Tammy Romeo said she thinks that autism awareness organizations are helping.

“I think that they do more and more. Autism has many parts, and the awareness [of those parts] is rising,” Tammy Romeo said.

Breanne Romeo said groups like Autism Speaks are important.

“They have the ability to provide specialists like that for my brother,” she said. “They have the ability to provide programs for kids with autism.”

The Powder Puff flag football tournament is garnering support from groups at Youngstown State University.

Billy Wheeler, the philanthropy and fundraiser chairman for the Sigma Chi fraternity, said a powder puff football game is “an awesome idea” and hopes it becomes a recurring event.

Wheeler said members of Sigma Chi are “definitely” excited.

Additionally, Sigma Chi hosted a wing-eating contest on Monday, with all proceeds going toward the cause.

Breanne Romeo said planning for the tournament is going better than expected. Sixteen teams have verbally committed to playing as of March 22.

Registration for the event ends Thursday at 6 p.m. Team applications can be submitted to Breanne Romeo in the YSU Office of Housing and Residence Life.