From good friends to gold medalists. Naperville residents Louis Pisani, Ryan Gronowski and Peter Silagi all represented Team Illinois’ flag football team at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games held in Orlando last week.
This is the first time the Illinois team has competed in flag football at the USA Games. And they started off with a bang, winning the gold medal game by a score of 26-20 in underdog fashion.
“We played in Maryland. They were really fast. Very athletic. They had a good size. On paper, a little scary. Just from a competitive point of view, in the game, we are half a point behind. So it was incredibly tough and intense. We dug deep and had some really good game plans. Some athletes really took over and it was just a very special game,” said coach Phil Eide.
About the players
Louis Pisani, a 2016 Naperville North graduate, was considered an MVP in Orlando. Normally, the 24-year-old likes to play attackingly but this time he stepped in in the defensive half of the pitch. In addition to flag football, he also plays “tennis, golf, softball and football”.
Ryan Gronowski, 24, or as his teammates call him, Gronkowski, is a 2016 graduate of Neuqua Valley. He is still the biggest fan of his siblings’ sporting events. But this time, it was he who was on the field with his family who encouraged him from the stands.
“We had a party there, we ate food and we drank a lot of water in Florida. It was very cool, very exciting,” Gronowski said.
Peter Silagi is the oldest of the three. The 32-year-old graduated from Waubonsie Valley in 2008 where he played basketball and competed in swimming, track and field and bowling. As one of the senior members of the flag football team, he rose to a leadership role.
“Just kind of keeping everyone under control and together and making sure everyone’s in the right place and doing what they’re supposed to do,” Silagi said.
Teammates from elsewhere
This isn’t the first time the three have played together. They are all part of DuPage Valley Special Athletes (DVSA) flag football team that won the Illinois State Championship twice. What makes this gold medal even more special is that coach Phil Eide, their Special Olympics coach, also coaches them in Western DuPage Special Recreational Association (WDSRA).
“It was amazing. We climb together. We’re going to the Fry YMCA on 95th. Basically every week, out of season, we go together to B-Dubs. We have really done a lot. And so, going to the United States games to have that intense and emotional gold medal game that we won against a team that you could say was better than us. It was really very moving. It was very cool,” Eide said.
It’s a moment these players will probably never forget.
“Really happy,” said Pisani. “We did it, we got first place,” Silagi said. “So proud of our teams for USA,” Gronowski said.
Reporting by Anthony Yench of Naperville News 17.
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