Champion sophomore Skylar Scarnecchia started playing basketball when she was seven.
“I’ve played basketball since second grade,” Scarnecchia said. “I started with Upward at a church I went to and I’ve loved it ever since. It just gives me confidence being out on the court and knowing people are watching me.”
It’s her biggest passion and nothing could stop her from playing. At age ten, Scarnecchia was diagnosed with stage four synovial sarcoma in her right foot.
“It’s a soft tissue cancer, which is very rare,” she said. “It was the size of a golf ball in the bottom of my foot.”
Scarnecchia went through three months of chemotherapy, but her foot didn’t respond to the treatment. Her doctor recommended amputation.
“Honestly, I don’t think it hit me at first because when the doctors told me, the first thing I said was, ‘Hey, that’s one less foot I have to clip toenails on,’” she added. “So, I don’t really think it hit me until the day of the surgery. I saw my parents realizing it was going to chance their lives and that’s when I realized that my life was going to be impacted forever.”
Scarnecchia had a below-the-knee amputation in December 2016. After the surgery, she was fitted for a prosthetic leg, which she jokingly named Felicia, and went through months of grueling physical therapy.
“Going through physical therapy was probably one of the hardest parts just because it’s a new bone and you’re starting to walk on it,” Scarnecchia said. “I guess I thought it was going to be easy at first and it wasn’t.”
Scarnecchia was determined to get back out on the court. After taking a year off, she joined her middle school team.
“Just knowing that I was out there doing what I love again, even after everything I’ve been through,” she said. “I just had to think on the bright side.”
“When she played back then, she was tough,” Champion head coach Michael Cole said. “She was not afraid (to use her elbows). She’s still kind of like that.”
Five years later, Scarnecchia is in remission and is thriving on the court playing on the Champion varsity team.
“I don’t think it holds me back at all honestly,” Scarnecchia said. “I’m a little slower than the other girls, but that doesn’t hold me back and it doesn’t stop me. I can still do anything that any other kid is doing.”
“On the court, I don’t notice it,” Cole added. “She’s just like any kid out there. I just don’t coach her that way. She’s just one of the girls. When you sit back and reflect, you don’t talk about it much, but it’s admirable the way that she comes back. She gives maximum effort.”
But perhaps her work off the court is even more inspiring. In 2020, Scarnecchia won the Cleveland Clinic’s Sports Health Courage award. She uses social media to share her story and hopes to motivate other amputees.
“I hope they can learn that they can do what they love,” she said. “This isn’t a setback, and you just have to keep thinking positive, because if you don’t, it will hinder your future that is already made out for you. If I kind of just sat there in my bed and didn’t encourage myself to get back out here, I don’t know where I’d be right now.”
Scarnecchia and Felicia have no plans of slowing down. Scarnecchia joined the golf team this year and hopes to one day make history.
“Be the first amputee collegiate basketball player, so that’s one of my biggest goals right now,” Scarnecchia said.
“She definitely puts the effort into it,” Cole added. “She was one of our biggest girls coming in the summers. She shoots all the time. She works hard. She’s someone that I wouldn’t doubt her if she’s going to accomplish a goal.”