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SCHENECTADY — “Wow, I guess my little brother touched a lot of people,” said Michael DiNovo while looking at the players, families, fans and spectators who came out for the Niko DiNovo Second Annual Charity Flag Football Tournament on Sunday, Aug. 19.
The all-day event drew some 52 teams to Schenectady High School, and all the proceeds are going into a recently created foundation in the name of Niko DiNovo, the 16-year-old who died 508 days after getting into a fiery car crash in 2016.
He would have graduate from Colonie High earlier this summer and he would have turned 18 on Aug. 30.
“The whole community came out to support Niko. The second year you’d think it would die down a little, but it got bigger,” Michael DiNovo said between one of his many football games. “It’s just incredible. I can’t thank everyone enough. All the volunteers, All American Sports for putting it on and all the players who came out and all the fans who came to watch. It’s just incredible.
“My brother did something, you know, and the money we raise will help others who need it. Hopefully it will get bigger and bigger each year because other people need help and we have to give it to them.”
The Niko DiNovo Foundation is a charity established by the family with the flag football tournament currently its primary fundraiser. The proceeds will go to The Ronald McDonald House of the Greater Hudson Valley, where the family stayed for 508 days, the Ronald McDonald House of Albany, the Hank Longo Burn Center at Westchester Medical Center and Burn Care Everywhere.
Also, Alicia DiNovo, Niko’s mom, wants to mentor or counsel families who find themselves in a similar situation to help them understand not just the confusing medical issues facing loved one but the emotional roller coaster the entire family is on as well.
“What happened to our family and the community and especially to Niko for 508 days was really tough and when we lost him it was even tougher,” said Davina Resciniti, Niko DiNovo’s aunt. “But you have two choices when something like that happens, you can let it define you or you define it so we decided to define it. We started the foundation and all the proceeds from today will go right back to the groups closest to our heart. Honestly, today was just a beautiful day.”
It’s particularly fitting because Niko loved football and loved playing flag.
Last year, while Niko DiNovo was in the Westchester Burn Unit fighting for his life, the tournament raised $13,500. This year’s goal was $15,000 and while the final figures were not yet tabulated, everything was on track to meet the mark.
“Despite the fact it’s very sad to san Niko did pass away, we want to keep his name alive and keep this benefit alive too,” said Frank Rogers, who runs All-American Sports, the organization that handled the logistics of having 52, five-on-five teams play in four different divisions. “Flag is big in the Capital District, but you won’t see any tournament, be it youth or men’s or coed, with 52 teams. It’s a tribute to us reaching out to everyone we knew and asking for help, and especially a tribute to the people for responding and giving a day for such a good cause.”
The four divisions were broken down into mens, coed, linemen – the big boys – and youth. The results were not known by press time but will be posted on our website, as will a photo gallery of the tournament.
Flag football is a big sport in the Capital District, and it’s taken seriously. The competition was fierce on Sunday at Schenectady High, and the athletes were not doubt playing to win.
But win or lose the game, they did know they were playing for something more profound than a trophy.
“The DiNovos have been in my friends’ group for a long time so we had to come out and play some flag for a good cause,” said Matthias McKinnon, who played Division I college football and gave the pros a shot before getting into fitness training. “It’s always good to give back. It’s always nice to come out here and win, but it can’t be easy to lose one of your own so the family has been in my prayers and I’m glad I can come out here and help out a good cause even a little bit.”
Check out our website for a photo gallery of the tournament.