NCAA hockey: Michigan raises autism awareness thanks to 11-year-old's idea
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Kylie Scarpace was certain that "Coach Red" would be receptive to her idea to have an Autism Awareness Game at Yost Ice Arena. She carried the passion she has for helping her best friend, who has autism, into the pitch meeting along with her computer for a PowerPoint presentation.
Wolverine head coach Red Berenson said Kylie melted him in an instant with her bright smile and caring nature, and then sold him with her research and reasoning. Michigan will indeed connect its fans to the need for autism awareness at its 5:05 p.m. on (Oct. 18) game with Mercyhurst at Yost.
"I knew it was a good cause, and I knew Coach Red would support it," said Kylie, 11. "And he was so supportive. He's done hockey camps with kids with autism in them, and he knew how nice and compassionate they are. So, he said, 'It's a great idea.' That made me really happy."
Her father, L.J. Scarpace, is the hockey program's director of player development and was a goalie on Michigan's Frozen Four team in 2001.
Kylie said that making her presentation to Berenson was special.
"It was pretty fun actually," said Kylie. "I was a little bit nervous, but Coach Red knows my dad, and I've known Coach Red all my life. So, I just felt pretty comfortable. And I wanted it to go well because I feel passionate about this."
Berenson said, "She set up a meeting and came in dressed to the hilt, very professional. She sat down and explained autism and felt we should do something about it because she has a friend who has autism who she would like to help. I was blown away. Her vision was pretty impressive.
"She presented it as if she was with the Autism Society and showed me slides and talked about what we could do. We looked at it, and it's consistent with what the University wants to do in supporting these causes. So, I called my good friend, Ted Lindsay, to see if he would be so good as to come to this game because he has a great foundation for autism."
Lindsay, a Hockey Hall of Famer who won four Stanley Cups and two NHL MVP awards for the Detroit Red Wings, will drop the puck in a ceremony prior to Sunday's game. He became interested in autism because the son of a friend was diagnosed with it at age four, and his Ted Lindsay Foundation founded in 2001 works to fund autism research and spread awareness.
"I had not heard of autism until my friend, John Czarnecki, told me his son, Dominic, had it, and he was four at the time," said Lindsay, 90. "I said, 'What can we do for Dominic?' So, we decided to raise money."
The foundation has raised $2 million, and the funds have gone to research hospitals and universities in hopes of finding a cure.
"Red is one of the great hockey people of all time," said Lindsay, "and when he called me to drop the puck at this event I was more than happy to help. I know how to drop a puck."
Lindsay chuckled and then got serious, noting figures that showed how autism has escalated in recent generations.
According to the Autism Society web site, www.autism-society.org, some 3.5 million Americans live with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and autism occurs in one in 68 births in the U.S.
Spreading the word about it is a mission of friendship for Kylie.
Her "best friend," Love has autism, and it concerned Kylie that people didn't understand Love's behavior. They attend Discovery Middle School in Canton together and are in seventh grade. Love isn't her real name, but is the name being used in this story because she requested anonymity.
"I got to know her, and she's the nicest person I've ever met," said Kylie. "She's funny, she's cute, she's calm, and she's everything I want in a friend. She's supportive, and she listens -- when she isn't going off on her cute little tangents about a lot of things."
Kylie paused, smiled and continued, saying, "She's just a lot of fun to hang around with and getting to see her daily life is good. But it's also kind of sad seeing the looks some people give her. That's why I want to bring it to the attention of people that we need to accept people's differences rather than push them aside."
Kylie discussed how Love manages learning in a mainstream school setting with autism.
"She has an aide that is with her and supervises to make sure she's on task," said Kylie. "She helps when Love doesn't understand things, and she has these little outbursts. Sometimes it's a little distracting, but we talk to her about that. But that is pretty difficult for her. Though, in math she's pretty bright. She gets the answers like that!"
Kylie clicked her fingers and shook her head.
Love isn't her first friend with autism. She had a friend with autism in third and fourth grade in Taylor before meeting Love in sixth grade.
Kylie's mother, Stacy, is an elementary school teacher in Taylor, and L.J. said the family has stayed friends with their daughter's friend from elementary school. That family has two children with autism, and they will attend Sunday's game at Yost.
"We just have this awesome game," said Kylie. "It's definitely going to be a unique game with the quiet room. When you have a child with autism, meltdowns can be at any moment, and they are very sensitive to noise. So, for it to be enjoyable we had to make some accommodations."
The quiet room will be clearly marked in Yost's lobby entrance, and audio levels will be lowered inside to create a more inclusive atmosphere.
Members of the Michigan women's gymnastics team -- which hosts an autism awareness meet -- will attend to lend support. Autism Speaks and the Ted Lindsay Foundation will have booths on the concourse. Both Michigan and Mercyhurst will wear puzzle piece ribbon stickers on their helmets. The puzzle piece was created as the National Autistic Society's logo in 1963.
It's all about fitting in for those with autism.
"Kylie came up with the idea while watching a hockey game," said her father. "It was Boston University wearing the puzzle piece in the Frozen Four. And the immediate question was, 'Could Michigan do something like that?' "
Kylie and "Coach Red" provided the answer to that question.
"She came through, and Coach was 100-percent supportive," said her father. "And it was like, 'Go Blue' and 'Light It Up Blue' -- which is for autism."
Kylie, who is playing Bonnie Parker as a youth in The Encore Musical Theatre Company of Dexter's production of "Bonnie & Clyde," also will sing the U.S. National Anthem at the game.
"I'm just so thankful for everyone involved," said Kylie.
Lindsay added, "This is wonderful."