WELLSBURG - While on the field, the Brooke High School football team's focus is to make touchdowns and field goals.
But it's what several Brooke Bruins and team manager Matteo "Matty" Filippelli have done off the field that won them major points with three organizations.
Filippelli and teammates Thomas Cole, Justin Elliott, Michael Kurcina, Matthew Lazear, Justin Loughrie and Aaron Walker are all good friends who have become known to many in the team's circles as the Sign Crew.
SPECIAL RECOGNITION — Several Brooke High School football players have received an award from MedExpress Urgent Care for taking time to learn sign language so they could communicate with Matteo “Matty” Fillipelli, the team’s manager. Representatives of MedExpress Urgent Care’s Weirton location presented a $1,000 check that will be split between the Brooke Football Boosters and Dana Cuomo’s speech therapy class. It was a good week for Filippelli, who also received the Yes I Can award from the West Virginia Council for Exceptional Children. On hand for the MedExpress presentation were, front from left, MedExpress staff members Lee Klovanish and Jenny Anderson, Giana Metanzo, daughter of staff member Marisa Metanzo, who is beside her; staff member Kayla Holtz; Filippelli, Matt Lazear and Aaron Walker; and back, Angela Elliott, a MedExpress staff member and mother of player Justin Elliott; Michael Kurcina, Justin Loughrie, Thomas Cole and Elliott. - Warren Scott
It's a nickname they earned because the six players - and Matt Hartman, who has since transferred to Weir High School - volunteered to learn sign language so they could better communicate with Filippelli.
Fillipelli's parents, Carla and Brian Jacobs of Follansbee, explained Matty was born with chromosome 2 partial deletion, a rare genetic condition that causes growth and developmental delays.
Matty can hear, Carla said, but because of his difficulty in communicating verbally, it's much easier for him to be understood through sign language.
She applauded the seven athletes for volunteering to learn sign language, through Dana Cuomo, Matty's speech therapist, so they could communicate with him on the playing field and assist him with his class work.
But the Jacobs aren't the only ones praising the Sign Crew. The group's efforts earned them third place in the Excellent Sportsmanship Contest held through Facebook by MedExpress Urgent Care.
Jenny Anderson, center manager for the Weirton MedExpress Urgent Care, said the Bruins were among 80 athletic groups entered into the nationwide contest.
The entries represented a variety of sports programs, from Little League baseball teams to a university women's hockey team (the University of Delaware Blue Hens, who placed first.)
Visitors to the Facebook page at Excellent Sportsmanship Contest could view a photo of each group and read its story before casting votes that determined five winners of cash prizes awarded by MedExpress Urgent Care.
Anderson was on hand before last week's game to present $1,000 to the Sign Crew and head football Coach Sean Blumette.
Carla Jacobs said the money will be split between the Brooke Football Boosters and Cuomo, who will use her portion to purchase materials for her speech therapy students.
It was a busy week for Matty, who was in Bridgeport, W.Va., on Oct. 17 to accept a Yes I Can Award from the West Virginia Council for Exceptional Children in the category of athletics.
The council also recognizes youth, up to 21 years of age, for overcoming disabilities to excell in the areas of academics, the arts, school and community activities, self-advocacy, technology and transition.
It was fitting that Matty be recognized for athletics. He has been involved with football since he was 8, when he joined the Wellsburg Colts football league, where he served as water boy and kicker.
He went on to participate in Brooke County Special Olympics, competing in basketball and bowling, for which he has earned gold medals, and track; the Miracle League baseball league and at Brooke High School in swimming and track.
He is in his second year with the football team, following Lazear to high school football. Lazear has since graduated from Brooke and is attending the University of Mount Union, but sees Matty during breaks, Jacobs said.
She said she is grateful to Lazear for setting an example for the younger players who also have befriended Matty and to Blumette, for allowing and encouraging him to be on hand at the sidelines.
The Sign Crew also has been entered into a contest held by Liberty Mutual Insurance through which they may be named one of the Top 10 Responsible Sports Moments of 2013 and receive a $1,000 grant.
The winners will be determined by a panel including Jim Thompson, founder and executive director of the Positive Coaching Alliance, a nonprofit group formed to promote sportsmanship and character-building in youth sports; Olympic skier Pikabo Street and leaders of several major youth sports organizations.