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Fairhaven grad shines

Received ovation for his rendition of the national anthem

18-year-old and recent Fairhaven Program graduate Nikko Cappitte, right, sings the Star Spangled Banner before Thursday's Mahoning Valley Scrappers game beside Fairhaven Superintendent Edward Stark. Cappitte received a roaring ovation when he finished and has performed the national anthem numerous times.

NILES — When recent Fairhaven Program graduate Nikko Cappitte, 18, finished the final note of the national anthem, the crowd at Eastwood Field roared in applause.

The thunderous standing ovation lasted until Nikko was just about off the field before Thursday’s Mahoning Valley Scrappers game. His mother, Tiffany Whitsel, said watching him sing the national anthem is just like watching it for the first time — even though he’s done it over a dozen times.

“Goosebumps every time he gets to perform because it’s amazing to me that my child has come all this way from being nonverbal and fighting all the odds he has between cerebral palsy and autism that now he’s actually singing for the community,” Whitsel said.

Whitsel said for most of his life, Cappitte was non-verbal and “just started to begin to sing, and that was how he first started communicating.”

“It just bloomed from there. Now he talks in complete sentences and can handle simple conversations,” Whitsel said. “This is a huge thing for him. He loves it and loves to show off.”

Whitsel estimates Cappitte has performed the anthem 14 or 15 times at various events, including a Scrappers game a couple of years ago. Every time, she said, she’s taken back to when he was little and could not communicate and beams with pride knowing how far her son has come.

“I just get the flashbacks of his whole life, from him being so little and me wondering the whole time what he’s thinking to working through all the communication issues and getting him to talk more,” she said.

Cappitte recently graduated from the Fairhaven Program, and Superintendent Edward Stark said Cappitte singing the national anthem showcases the talent of those in the program.

“He’s going to rock it,” Stark said. “I was so nervous for him the first time he did a Scrappers game a couple of years ago, and he knocked it out of the park. I think he’s going to do it again.”

In addition to Cappitte singing the anthem, 7-year-old Olivia Slattery, also in the program, was chosen to throw out the first pitch. Prior to throwing out the first pitch, Olivia’s parents, Sara and Kevin, said she was very excited.

“It’s exciting for her because not everybody understands the Fairhaven Program or knows about it and it’s a great opportunity for her to show everybody that you can be out there,” Sara Slattery said.

More than 340 people served by the Fairhaven Program attended to see Olivia and Nikko represent the program.

“It’s awesome to be able to show off the talents of our folks and to have the community recognize what an important piece we are,” Stark said.

nhawthorne@tribtoday.com

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