SCHENECTADY — “Faith, hope and love” have kept the DiNovo family going since a cherished member of their lot was seriously injured in a fiery October 2016, car crash.
And, knowing there is a whole community behind you doesn’t hurt either. On Sunday, Aug. 13, that community took the form of 35 flag football teams, who came out to Schenectady High School for a day of “flag,” and to help the cause.
“I’m overwhelmed. This is really amazing,” said Niko’s mom, Alicia DiNovo, of the number of players who turned out before she teared up. “The support we’ve gotten from so many people is just overwhelming.”
To see a photo gallery and wrap up of the tournament click here.
The family did get some encouraging news recently. Niko, who was 16 at the time of the crash, is slated for one more skin-graph surgery at the Westchester Hospital Burn Unit, where he has been since the accident.Then, towards the end of September, he will head to Shriners Hospital in Boston for rehabilitation.
“He’s tough, he’s fighting,” she said. “He’s going to be OK.”
A member of the family has been by Niko’s side every day for nearly 10 months and Sunday was the first time Alicia DiNovo and another of her sons, Michael DiNovo, have been in the 518 at the same time since the accident. They were both at the flag tournament and shared a hug before things kicked off.
“I’m surprised at the turnout, but everyone has been rallying around us and I kind of count of these guys too so I’m not surprised” said Michael DiNovo, an avid flag player who sidelined himself most of this year to help care for his brother.
His brother also played youth flag at Affirms and when he was told about a 34-team turnout for the tournament Sunday, “his eyes got really big” said Michael DiNovo.
Niko can’t talk because of a tracheostomy tube, but does communicate through non-verbal means. He has gone through scores of skin graph surgeries in an effort to repair the third-degree burns that devastated more than 90 percent of his body. The driver of the car Niko was riding in, his friend 18-year-old Michael Carr, has pleaded not guilty to a host of charges including felony assault, aggravated vehicular assault and driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
Michael DiNovo said his brother would spend from six to eight months at Shriners and then, if all goes well, come home.
“We are ready for it. We have to get him home,” he said. “His life is different now, but things happen for a reason and we’ll figure out why and things will be OK.”
The Capital District Flag Football League is the fourth largest in the world, according to its website – and players take the game seriously.
On Sunday, like every Sunday, everyone was there to win but there was the feeling of playing for a cause greater than any individual player or team.
“We have a great turnout for the Niko charity event today. We are Niko Strong and everyone is happy to be here,” said Joe Cioffi, a linebacker/quarterback for Samson’s Fighting Irish. “I’m friends with Mikey, we played softball and played some flag together and we came out today to support his little brother … and we get to play some flag while doing it.”
“Everybody here gave money for charity and we’re happy to do it because the Niko kid needs it,” said Ricky Gushlaw, of Troy. “I’m happy to be here, and I want to tell Niko we are here for him and let his family know we are behind them and are praying for them.”
Frank Rogers, of All American Sports runs the CDFFL and has become a close friend of the DiNovo family.
“I would like to thank my assistant Rocco and all the volunteers,” Rogers said. “This was looking to be a lot smaller a couple days before but everybody did rally and we are all here for this one common purpose – to help out Niko. Hopefully we will get him back out here again soon.”