Coach Kerry Williams doesn’t like the term “special needs.”
“I prefer ‘differently able’ athletes,” he said before the participants arrived for The Outreach Program (TOP) Soccer event for those with special needs, ages 5-18, on May 23.
Williams is a licensed soccer coach with Carolina Rapids, an advanced skill-level, youth soccer club in Cornelius affiliated with a pro soccer team, the Colorado Rapids.
Volunteers from the local high schools, community and Carolina Rapids gathered at Richard Barry Memorial Park in Huntersville to help the “differently able” athletes socialize and learn soccer skills. “Everyone of the volunteers gets as much, if not more, from the experience as the athletes,” said Kerry, “They all get lifetime memories out of this,” he said.
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Explaining that they require two volunteers for each athlete – to guide them and help them learn the fundamentals of the game – Williams said the 50 needed volunteers show up for the 9 a.m start every Saturday morning. The soccer program began on April 25 and ended May 30. Baseball for these athletes is scheduled to begin on June 6.
Adrian Richardson, 9, who has Prader-Willi syndrome, is called “The Shark Master” by his coaches and fellow athletes. During the game of shark and minnows the children and their helpers, who are acting as minnows, have loose shirts hanging down from back of their pants to act as tails.
Similar to flag football, the sharks try to grab the tails of the minnows as they scurry past trying to get to the other side of the soccer field. Adrian especially likes playing the shark.
“One, two, three, swim minnows swim,” he shouted as the children began to hurry across the field. Chasing one of the volunteers, Adrian got the “tail.”
“Nom, nom, nom,” he said, acting like he was eating it, with a big grin on his face.
Reid Setzer, 7, has autism spectrum disorder; this is his first year in the program. His mother, Tara Setzer, said that she hopes this program could be a gateway into the Carolina Rapids. “His goal is to get into the program (Carolina Rapids) and he is enjoying playing with the other children,” she said.
Volunteer James Gosling, 15, said, “This is for the kids. It’s a good experience, to learn how fortunate I am by seeing how these kids play.” Gosling said that he has been volunteering for two years and comes every Saturday he is not playing on his Carolina Rapids team.
The Cornelius Parks, Arts, Recreation and Culture Department has partnered with the Huntersville Parks and Recreation Department to offer programs such as TOP Soccer for residents in the area with special needs.
In addition to the other programs and summer camps for the children, there are programs for adults with special needs being offered this summer.
Marty Price is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The baseball program for athletes ages 5-17 is 9-10 a.m. It starts June 6 and runs through July 11. For information on the baseball program and the other special-needs programs offered for those of all ages go to http://cornelius.org/index.aspx?NID=292.
For a list of the special-needs summer camps: http://cornelius.org/index.aspx?NID=293.
To register for the summer camps, go to https://secure.rec1.com/NC/cornelius-parks-arts-recreation-culture/Special-Needs-Summer-Camps/894c.