TOPSUpdated Tuesday July 14, 2015 by Brendan Smith.
TOPSoccer is available for athletes with physical, developmental and/or intellectual disabilities. The program focuses on player participation, soccer skills and being a part of a team. TOPSoccer is open to athletes ages 4 to 18 years old. Teams practice from 3:15 to 4:15 p.m. The program runs for six weeks. TOPSoccer is free. For Volunteer information like us on facebook West Hempstead TOPSoccer.
By Tara Conry
May 4, 2011
Driving past the sports fields at George Washington School in West Hempstead late Saturday afternoon, from afar you can see a group of kids playing soccer.
Look a little closer and you'll soon learn that there is actually something more beautiful taking place.
The young people kicking around the balls are a mix of volunteers and participants in the local TOPSoccer program, a community-based training and team placement program for young athletes with disabilities. (TOPS stands for The Outreach Program for Soccer.)
According to US Youth Soccer, "the program is designed to bring the opportunity of learning and playing soccer to any boy or girl, who has a mental or physical disability."
The West Hempstead Chiefs soccer league ran a similar program in the fall to gauge local interest and after generating a great turnout become an official affiliate of TOPS.
In April, they held the first two sessions of a free six-week program that is held Saturdays from 3:15 to 4:15 p.m. at the G.W. fields. Over the two days they welcomed 20 kids with disabilities who were excited to become a part of a team, and even more locals teens eager to help them in any way they could.
"The volunteers see that these kids have some major challenges, but for one hour they helped a kid have some fun," said Lauren Lee, the coordinator of the West Hempstead program.
Lee said while some of the volunteers have experience working with children with disabilities through the Town of Hempstead's ANCHOR program, most are just soccer players themselves eager to share their energy and love of the game in hopes of helping others.
"They don't get the opportunity like this everyday to play," said Brian Kissling, a West Hempstead eighth grader and travel soccer player. "This gives them a place where they can express themselves."
Lee explained that in addition to teaching the children a new sport and getting them to exercise, the program also helps them develop physically, mentally and socially.
"Most are autistic or have Down syndrome," Lee said. "This gives them a chance to be part of a team, gets them moving around, helps with coordination and also gives them the satisfaction of scoring a goal."
Lee said she's already received positive feedback from some parents, who say their son or daughter looks forward to putting on their soccer shirt and heading off to play just like their siblings who do not have disabilities do each weekend.
"It makes them feel good about themselves and that makes me feel about myself," said Lee's 18-year-old daughter, Jennifer. The West Hempstead High School grad spent last Saturday working with an 8-year-old autistic boy named Ryan, who she also babysits for.
"Ryan's mom said I'm doing a really great job with him," she added. "They are happy I'm volunteering my time to help him."
Lee said her volunteers are mostly high school and middle school students.
Sixth grader Stephanie Martinez is one of the youngest, but Lee was extremely impressed the way she was able to connect with the young child she worked with Saturday afternoon.
"It was really fun and I felt I was really being helpful," said Martinez, who volunteered for the first time at the April 30 session.
Martinez worked one-on-one with a 5-year-old child, teaching the youngster how to kick the ball, knock over cones and play a version of bowling. Although she doesn't play organized soccer, Martinez was prepared for this job.
"My friends sister has autism, "she said. "Plus, I do babysit and kids seem to like me."
Watching all the volunteers in action, Lee noted their incredible energy and great care they showed toward the players, holding their hands, keeping calm when they didn't follow directions and encouraging them each step of the way.
"They do it so naturally," she said.
Lorraine Gallant, a West Hempstead mom and assistant to Lee, is very happy to see so many local teens willing to devote their time to assisting others.
"There's no arm-twisting...it's just so rewarding," said Gallant, who added that her eighth grade son, Joe, loves being involved. "He thinks it's a lot fun."
Gallant said she believes her son and his fellow volunteers will take away an important lesson from the program about thinking of others. "It shows them there are kids that want to do things but aren't always able to unless people give them help."
There are still four session left this spring and on June 6 the players will compete in a special TOPS tournament.
Lee invited all local kids to volunteer, adding,"You don't need to be a soccer star....you just need to have lots of patience and a good spirit."
To get involved contact Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.