Student with Down syndrome embraced by swim community
WESTON — Feeling included and part of a group is a focus for many high school students. For Jack Piscitell, a Weston High School senior with Down syndrome, that goal can prove a bit more challenging.
However, that hasn’t stopped the 19-year-old from following his passion for swimming. In fact, the high school swim team has welcomed him with open arms, and to Piscitell, have become an extended family.
Piscitell’s mother, Cathleen Crowley-Piscitell, remembers bringing Jack the pool at just 6-months old.
“I brought him to a birth to 3 programs to help him with strength and flexibility,” she said. “When Jack was in the second grade, we learned that in the middle school he would have to swim the width of the pool. To prevent him from being embarrassed, we did private swim lessons weekly and year-round.”
In fifth grade, Piscitell was able to join the swimming club, but it was short-lived, as he was cut in sixth grade for not being fast enough.
From then on, Crowley-Piscitell recalls spending a lot of time finding another team for her son to join. For years, she said she remembers the YMCA telling her that in the future there would be a new Westport/Weston building and for her to “be patient.”
When Piscitell was in the seventh-grade, he began swimming with the Trumbull Special Olympics team in a Milford YMCA pool with adults, all over the age of 30. As Piscitell was the youngest on the team, his mother felt that he was out of place.
It was finally after joining the high school team in January of his sophomore year, that Piscitell was able to be with kids his own age. Within the last year, Piscitell has won the Southwest Conference championship with his teammates and also received a varsity letter. Throughout Piscitell’s high school swim meets, he has participated the 50 Freestyle and 200 Free Relay.
Piscetell’s teammates and coach have embraced him as part of the team.
When he missed the order deadline for school swim gear, coach Brandon Barone took the sweatshirt off his back and gave to Piscitell, because “it’s all about making the memories,” Barone said.
Barone has been the head coach of both the girls and boys teams since spring of 2018. It was during the winter 2017-18 season, when he was the interim head coach for the boys team, that Barone met Piscitell.
During senior night on Feb. 25, Piscitell and his teammates were honored during an evening of recognition and awards. That night, he had received the “Spirit Award” for his enthusiasm to compete in multiple races.
“Jack, as a senior, has been embraced by a community of swimmers, and true friends, who he, in turn, has helped teach about compassion, inclusion, patience and passion,” said Peter Saverine, director of philanthropy at STAR, Inc.
Norwalk-based nonprofit STAR, Inc., was founded over 60 years ago by local parents who envisioned lives of inclusion for children with developmental disabilities in the community.
“Jack is an example of that inclusion. He is living the future our founders could dream of,” Saverine said. “His future is one still to be written and everyone in the community can help create opportunities for him to write it — just as his fellow swimmers have done this year.”