Special Needs kids score with Fall Soccer

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If you’re a sports fan, you know that team success comes in all shapes and sizes and is wonderfully unpredictable.

That’s the beauty of sport.

That’s the beauty of the American Youth Soccer Organization’s VIP Fall Soccer program  for ‘special needs’ children and young adults.  Here, athletes and their families celebrate ‘the thrill of victory’ and never worry about defeat.

Now in its 13th season, AYSO Region 154 offers the fall VIP league in northwest Orange County.  Players range from ages 4 to 29 and come from Seal Beach, Rossmoor, Los Alamitos, Cypress, Buena Park, La Palma, Westminster, Cerritos and West Garden Grove.

They may live with Autism, Downs Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy.

Some may be blind, hearing impaired or confined to a wheelchair.  But on the soccer field they enjoy scoring a goal as much as – no, probably more than –  their AYSO peers.

And play they do!

What’s in it for the families of special needs children?  Many enjoy seeing their children being active for the first time, learning new skills and playing on a team.

Such values are easily acquired for most normal children; they are extremely meaningful for these youngsters, whose progress is sometimes measured by a single step.

Parents, families and friends attending games on brisk Friday nights or Saturday mornings in the fall are thrilled by the players’ accomplishments.

“Spencer’s eyes light up on the soccer field,” says Laura Benson, whose 6 year-old son relies on a wheelchair for his mobility.  “Last year, he began kicking the ball during practice and games for the first time.  The encouragement he got from his teammates, buddies on the field and the coaches made VIP soccer a very special experience for him – and for us!”

“This is American Youth Soccer at its best,” adds the Region 154 Commissioner Ken Spira.  “We rely on families, friends, volunteers and local business for support.  With the community’s backing we’re offering the program at no cost – no registration fee – and hope more children will join VIP”

With the emphasis on safety, fun and family, VIP provides benefits to volunteers as well.  High school students who serve as ‘buddies’ help players navigate the action.

They learn first-hand about people with special needs. What preconceptions they may have had about those with disabilities quickly fade as they share in the success on the field.

They also earn community service credits for their time and some, following their VIP experience, have pursued working with the disabled in college study.

“There are benefits at all levels,” says Jim DiRosa, a parent of a special needs child and the VIP  Director.  “As a parent, I know that our son Luis is learning more than just how to kick a ball.  He’s learning how much he can accomplish and how to play on a team.  Those are accomplishments we all celebrate with him.”

To learn more about the VIP Fall Soccer program, contact Jim DiRosa at (562) 572-9358 or at vip@ayso.org.

Player and volunteer registration is also available at Season Ticket Family Pizza on the following dates and times:

Thursday, May 6 from 6 to 9 p.m.; Sunday, May 16 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, June 3 from 6 to 9 p.m.; Sunday, June 12 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Season Ticket Pizza is at 6038 Ball Road in Buena Park.

Ben Singer lives in Rossmoor and has been coaching VIP Soccer since 2001.

Special Needs kids score with Fall Soccer