While US Youth Soccer strives “To foster the physical, mental and emotional growth and development of America’s youth through the sport of soccer at all levels of age and competition,” many students with disabilities are unable to take part in this organization.
Uniting students of all ages and abilities, The Outreach Program for Soccer (TOPS) and Basketball programs provide students with disabilities the option to play soccer and basketball, activities in which they otherwise might not be able to participate.
Manager of TOPS soccer, Raelani Hartnett ’20, believes that TOPS soccer serves as a wonderful experience for both the athletes and volunteers.
“Not only does it give the athletes the option to play a town sport, something that they’ve never been able to participate in but it also helps them meet and befriend people other than the teachers, doctors, and parents that they usually spend time with,” said Hartnett.
Volunteers also benefit from the relationships they develop. After working with the same athlete for multiple years, Hartnett was moved by the trophy ceremony last spring.
“[One of the athletes I coached] wrote me a card and drew a picture of a mix of all of my favorite things, along with his favorite things. I could tell how appreciative he was and how much he loved his time at soccer,” said Hartnett.
With ten more volunteers than last year, the managers hope to gain a greater base of both athletes and volunteers.
Fellow TOPS soccer manager Natalia Peters ’20 pairs athletes with buddies, emails parents, takes care of field setup, and maintains the program. She loves watching the kids bond with the high schoolers she paired them with.
“I am hoping that we can continue to have this program, and when we graduate we can pass it onto underclassmen to take it over, so it can continue being a great program once we leave,” said Peters.
Meeting once a week for six weeks, high school volunteers take part in the TOPS basketball program. Differing only slightly from TOPS soccer, high schoolers play basketball with the athletes instead of teaching. TOPS basketball provides two different age groups, one for K-4th grade, and another for 5th-8th grade, whereas TOPS soccer provides one session for all ages.
Manager of TOPS basketball, Olivia Buckley ’20, gleefully recalls watching her buddy, not originally interested in basketball, run across the gym with a smile on his face.
“I had never seen someone look so happy and by the time TOPS basketball was over, I remember how he said he couldn’t wait until it started again next year. Seeing the difference you make in these kids’ mindsets towards sports and giving them opportunities they otherwise would never have is really special,” said Buckley.