New Panthers member Rylee DiTullio was accompanied by her parents and team coach Jodi Hermanek, along with school senior and infield player Olivia Gray, for her signing at a university “Draft Day” news conference on Jan. 21. Pittsburgh won its first Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division championship last year.
Although DiTullio won’t actively play in games, the full-fledged member will attend them and contribute in her own way. She’ll also be expected at practice sessions and all other team activities. Her signing-day itinerary was busy, with a team practice and dinner, the press conference, and a dance party, according to a team webpage.
Born in Mars, Pennsylvania, DiTullio was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at a young age, and has two older siblings. The Pine-Richland High School student has been a member for a decade of the Miracle League, which serves individuals with disorders that typically cause them to be excluded, intentionally or not, from conventional baseball leagues.
Co-founded in 2011 by Jay Calnan and Dan Kraft, Team IMPACT is a national non-profit that links young people — from 5 to 15 years old, and facing serious or chronic disorders — with college sports teams near their homes. Participants can be drafted to any sport at any level, and remain with their respective teams until graduation, when they are celebrated for their accomplishments and overall team impact.
In the last eight years, the program has connected nearly 1,700 children with programs in more than 500 colleges and universities in 49 states, producing some 50,000 student athletes.
Participating athletic teams must commit to providing Team IMPACT youths with consistent and active socialization, on and off campus. Players are trained to be good role models to their new teammates. An overarching goal of the program is to help children with illnesses develop enduring friendships and life-changing results.
Other IMPACT and National College Athletics Association programs involved include University of Maryland baseball, Babson College ice hockey, University of Connecticut softball, and the Vanderbilt University spirit squad.