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GCC senior Astalos refuses to let disability slow him down

| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Greensburg Central Catholic senior J.T. Astalos takes part in drills during practice on August 20, 2013, at the high school in Carbon.

Greensburg Central Catholic senior J.T. Astalos isn't allowing a disability stop him from playing football.

Despite being legally blind in his left eye from a parasite that attacked his cornea between his freshman and sophomore season, Astalos was able to play in 2012 after receiving special permission to wear a tinted shield on his helmet.

Tinted shields are outlawed by the National Federation of State High School Association as a safety concern. They wanted officials to be able to see the eyes of players in case of a concussion.

Astalos' family had to present written documents from their doctors to the PIAA to receive approval to wear the tinted shield, which cuts down on stadium light glare and helps J.T. to see better and play.

WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley said the only person who could make the ruling was PIAA executive director Dr. Bob Lombardi, and he did the day Greensburg Central Catholic played host to Washington in the season opener Aug. 31, 2012.

A year later, Astalos and his Greensburg Central Catholic teammates are eager to face Washington and running back Shai McKenzie.

Astalos hopes for a different outcome. Washington won last year's game.

Astalos was swimming at a friend's pool with his contacts in when he contracted the parasite, which got between his eye and contact.

“I was told it was a 1 in 2 million chance that I contracted it,” Astalos said. “I went to the doctors and was originally getting treated for pink eye. But an ulcer developed on the pupil and screwed up my cornea. They told me I was lucky, because if I waited any longer, the infection might have killed me.”

Astalos wasn't allowed to participate in football his sophomore season while being treated. He was cleared to play in winter of that season.

He rehabbed with Rob Fitzpatrick, a trainer, who worked on improving his depth perception. He worked with the speed bag and other things to help him. He said his sight was like looking through a foggy window.

“I love football,” Astalos said. “The doctors told me I could have a cornea transplant, which will restore my vision, but I couldn't play football.

“I'm going to wait until my football career is over to consider that. I'm hoping to have a good senior season and attract interest from colleges. All I have to do is impress one coach.”

Astalos said his junior season didn't go as planned. He played tight end and defensive end. When he lines up Friday, he'll be playing spilt end and right outside linebacker.

He caught a 13-yard touchdown pass in 2012.

Greensburg Central Catholic coach Dan Mahoney said he doubts many of opponents or players on the team knew he had a vision problem.

“He's done a great job,” Mahoney said. “He concentrates hard, especially at night, when he's catching passes. It's pretty special what he's been able to do.”

Mahoney said Astalos has trouble with glare at night while driving and with the stadium lights.

“I still wear contacts, and I still swim,” Astalos said. “I'm more cautious now. I wear the disposable contacts.”

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