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Our Leadership Team

Julia Konitzky, Special Hockey Program Coordinator

Julia Ann Konitzky was born and raised in McKees Rocks just outside of Pittsburgh into a close-knit Italian family.  From an early age, the core values of hard work, remaining close to family, and participating in  community service was instilled in her by her parents.  Julia's parents were the quintessential "Pittsburgh" family with her dad working at a steel mill and her mother owning an Italian Bakery.  Julia modeled a lot of what she did with her upbringing after her mother who was a prominent member  and pillar of support within the McKees Rocks community.  Julia began to volunteer at the local community hospital and soon realized she wanted to work in the medical field.  

Julia attended Duquesne University and graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Nursing.  She served on numerous committees for quality improvement initiatives at UPMC Mercy.  She was the lead wound care nurse on her unit and one of the instructors and trainers for students and new hires.  She became a Certified Medical Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN), and obtained an NIH Stroke Scale Certification for acute stroke care.  She was also an instructor for the American Heart Association for Advance Care Providers. 

Despite working as a nurse and pouring her efforts into her patients, her love of the McKees Rocks community she grew up in was always near her heart.  She decided to run for School Director for the Sto-Rox School District.  After winning, she soon had a voice to advocate for the students and the teachers in this under served district.  As a board member she was Co-Chairperson for the District for the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) in Harrisburg which is an organization that empowers its members to create positive school environments for all children. 

Julia met her husband Paul at UPMC Mercy Hospital, and they moved to Erie, PA for him to begin his career as an Attending Physician.  Julia worked as a cardiac nurse at UPMC Hamot.

Julia and Paul had their first child Little Paul while in Erie, and she stayed home to take care of the baby.  Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, Julia's mother became diagnosed with the devastating disease of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig's Disease, and the decision was made to return back to Pittsburgh to be with her family and care for her mother full time.

While caring for her mother, Julia quickly realized the importance of advocating for the disabled.  Her mother was immobile from disease progression which led her to be paralyzed and wheelchair bound.  There were numerous obstacles that a fully physically disabled person has to overcome, from limits to their use of technology, their ability to communicate to others, and just day to day navigation to get through society.  Julia poured her heart and soul into helping her mom through these obstacles and began supporting those with disabilities, especially ALS.  Paul and Julia had another son Matthew while her mother was alive, and son Alexander was born after her passing. 

Now as a full-time mom of three boys, she became in-tune with the developmental milestones that she realized her two youngest children were not making.  Her son Matthew was eventually diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Alexander with global developmental delays and hypotonia.  Julia's focus and efforts quickly went to becoming and advocate for their needs as they navigated through early intervention and early childhood education settings.  She was so grateful to the numerous therapists, behavioral specialist and support staff in which she received.  Her children began to thrive with all the efforts and interventions! 

While in early education, she wrote grants for the school and was awarded money to develop a large Sensory Garden and Nature Explore Classroom in Cranberry Township for all children and adults of any ability to enjoy.  She is now an advocate at the Mars Area School District for children with special needs and has developed a private Parent Support Group on social media for the district.  She is also a member of the Mars Special Education Parent Advisory Committee.

In the meantime son Paul made strides in his hockey career.  As he grew and started travel hockey, his brother Matthew had the desire to play as well. Knowing that Matthew was unable to be in a neurotypical and competitive program like his older brother, Matthew joined the Steel City Icebergs, a special needs hockey team under the support of the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation and the Hockey Sticks Together Foundation.  Julia saw the wonderful programming of Special Hockey and began to volunteer heavily with the Hockey Sticks Together Foundation.  Her proud moment in special hockey was developing and implementing the 1st Annual USA Hockey Special Hockey Classic in November of 2018 along with the former executive director of HST.  She pulled community resources and developed the first ever Sensory Room at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex for the athletes and families to use at this international event.

Her love of Pittsburgh hockey continues to shine, and the desire to bring special hockey programming to children and adults of cognitive and intellectual disabilities remains a focus while working at HST.  Her goal is to work with her team at HST and the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation to grow the sport of special hockey in more venues such as the dek, and in other areas around the region.  She is excited for the opportunity and looking forward to the future of special hockey.