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Article updated: 11/15/2012 2:08 PM

Piccheti and his wheels inspire Lake Park

By Dave Oberhelman

Lake Park's boys basketball team can take inspiration from Kyle Picchetti. It has before.

Lancers coach Josh Virostko said Picchetti, a varsity manager, spurred on last year's team by imparting inspirational messages and John Wooden quotes about confronting challenges before home victories against both Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley.

"Coming from me the kids would be, like, 'whatever,'" Virostko said. "Kyle, they buy in and they buy in because he's living it."

Picchetti was born with VACTERL syndrome, or association, which according to the VACTERL Association Family Network website is a "series of characteristics that have been found to occur together."

The V in the acronym stands for vertebrae, and Picchetti has reduced ability to walk. In school he uses a motorized scooter.

"Other than that I'm a normal kid," he said.

That's not really true. How many people do you see making those halftime shots at Bulls games? Kyle did. In his competition wheelchair. The 17-year-old Roselle resident is one of the best wheelchair basketball players around,

"His core strength must be unbelievable," Virostko said.

His inner and mental strength, too. Picchetti, who plays for both the Windy City Warriors and the Chicago Wheelchair Bulls, is a 2012 National Wheelchair Basketball Association Academic All-American, First Team Junior Division. In 2011 he was a second-team pick. He is an A-B student and Lake Park senior leader who mentors underclassmen and also assists mentally challenged students in physical education.

On the court Picchetti was a four-time Wheelchair Bulls Junior All-Star Team selection -- he's now up on the adult team -- who won two tournament most valuable player awards his freshman year. A guard, he's helped the Windy City Warriors to state titles in 2011 and 2012. The Warriors placed eighth both years at the national tournament in march in Colorado Springs.

"At least we're consistent," he said.

At Lake Park his association with the varsity basketball team has "helped me grow to become a well-rounded individual," he said.

Arriving as a freshman at the same time Virostko did, Picchetti ingratiated himself to the team at open gyms. The new coach quite didn't know what to think.

"I was hesitant at first due to his being in a wheelchair," Virostko said. "When he came and showed how mobile he was and how well he could play in it, he actually played in games with the kids (in open gym)."

Picchetti will takes on varsity Lancers 1-on-1. His current sparring partner is senior forward Jeremy Caboor.

"Every once in a while he beats me and every once in a while I beat him," Picchetti said.

He said he's spoken with the wheelchair basketball coach at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and is also considering the University of Illinois; the Illini coach, Paralympian gold medalist Mike Frogley, was the one who selected him to the Academic All-America team. Picchetti hopes to go pre-med and become a radiologist.

Now, though, it's varsity basketball season. He may be counted upon for inspiring words, which come on top of his inspirational story.

"They look pretty good," Picchetti said of the Lancers. "I'd say their ball movement is pretty good and their leadership is pretty good, and they seem like they're going to be a pretty good team. And our motto is, 'We're back,' so we need to have a big year."

District 203 news

Naperville Central athletic director Andy Lutzenkirchen announced the school will debut a Redhawks athletic hall of fame in 2013. The inaugural 12-member induction class will be recognized between sophomore and varsity boys basketball games against Glenbard North on Feb. 8. Details later.

The "Driving Away Cancer" fundraiser for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a joint venture by the Naperville North and Naperville Central girls golf programs, far exceeded its $5,000 goal. The drive, initiated by Naperville North golfers Kelsey Torbik and Elayna Weston, Redhawks counterparts Lauren Santangelo and Lauren Michael and coaches Greta Williams and Jane Thompson, raised more than $7,700.

Nutritional benefits of Bison

Headed by the Fenton boys soccer program, in a little over two hours Nov. 10 some 160 players and volunteers packed more than 57,000 protein-packed meals to be delivered to Liberia, West Africa.

The effort was brought to Bensenville by 1983 Fenton graduate Nick Falco, who is a vice president of development for Rockford-based Kids Around the World. The 18-year-old nonprofit has built playgrounds in more than 50 countries and delivered more than six million meals.

Falco, a former Bison soccer player who returned as a head boys and girls coach and now assists in both programs -- Fenton boys varsity coach David Alvarez played for him -- would deflect credit for last Saturday's effort to a 10-year-old Wisconsin boy. The youngster, whose grandmother drove six hours to Bensenville to participate, heard about the troubles in war-torn Liberia and started raising funds. That came to the attention of Kids Around the World.

"If a 10-year-old boy can make the impact he's making, each and every one of us can do it," said Falco, who has seen two Bensenville playgrounds he used as a kid "recycled" and sent to places less fortunate.

The herd of Bison soccer players descended upon the high school early to set up the field house with 11 rows of packing stations. Falco wanted to operate at Fenton because of "the energy that goes with being at your own place," he said.

The volunteers packed the meals assembly-line style. The rice- and soy-based meals, which cost Kids Around the World just a quarter apiece to ship globally, filled six pallets which were loaded into a 26-foot truck.

Falco said these meals may be the only food the recipients eat all day. When provided by a school, they can serve the added benefit of parents being more likely to send their kids to school.

Falco said his fellow coaches questioned whether the Bison soccer players understood the importance of what they were doing. That is, until someone spilled some rice.

"Another person said, 'Hey, we need to be careful about that because that's taking food away from someone in Liberia.' That sent the message that they got it," Falco said.

doberhelman@dailyherald.com

Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1

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