PAWTUCKET â€” Back in February, Pawtucket Youth Soccer Association President Fatima Daly attended, as always, a Soccer Rhode Island meeting at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick.
This one in particular sparked her interest more than any other. The reason: One of the subjects was educating developmentally or physically disabled children about the game so many others had been enjoying.
â€śWhen I heard that, I was interested in finding out more information,â€ť said Daly, relaxing at a picnic table within the McKinnon-Alves Soccer Complex recently. â€śThis was something I wanted to bring to PYSA for a long time now. I had found that there are a lot of children out there with disabilities and do not or may not have the chance to try different sports.
â€śI talked to a gentleman who helps set up such programs for towns and cities, and he informed me he would help us create such a program. Naturally, I was thrilled.â€ť
This late summer and fall, for the first time in the 37-year history of PYSA, Daly and her staff is offering what she labeled â€śTOPSoccer,â€ť an acronym for â€śThe Outreach Program for Soccer.â€ť It's designed to bring to any boy or girl (age 4-18) with a cognitive or physical challenge the opportunity to learn about and play the sport they adore â€“ or just want to try.
Daly indicated the program is carried out by volunteers with financial support from the United States Youth Soccer Association and, in this case, the PYSA. Only a handful of communities throughout the state offers â€śTOPSoccer,â€ť and â€śwe're excited to be one of them,â€ť she stated.
Actually, it's already begun at this complex, though is still in its infancy.
â€śWe're up and running with six registered players,â€ť Daly gleamed. â€śThey range in age from six to 16; in fact, we have two 16-year-olds, two more who are 12 and the others are only six. This is an instructional program where children learn the basics of soccer â€“ the rules, how to kick a ball, stop it, pass, dribble and shoot.
â€śI'm really excited about it,â€ť she added. â€śI just wish we could get more interest out there. Maybe we need to work with the school departments; we just want the word to spread â€¦ When I first heard about this, I thought it was a wonderful idea.
â€śThis area is so diverse, and soccer is such a staple around here â€“ everybody plays it and wants to learn how â€“ so we'd love to open our doors to even more children. Next year, we'd like to double the number, and who knows? If we quadruple it, maybe we could have a little league for these youngsters.â€ť
Daly claimed she has reached out to such organizations as Special Olympics and Meeting Street School, but â€“ without those officials knowing much about the program's stability, as it's so new â€“ has received little feedback.
â€śOur biggest hurdle has been getting the word out,â€ť she noted. â€śThis has started, but I want to see it expand and keep expanding. We're elated we got this going, but we really want to get more children involved.â€ť
TOPSoccer caters to all kids 4-18, and â€“ right now â€“ Daly has enrolled youngsters with Autism, Down Syndrome, etc.
â€śWe also have a child in a wheelchair,â€ť she stated. â€śI've been to some of the sessions, and the kids are having a blast!â€ť
Here's why: Each child is partnered with what she calls a â€śbuddy,â€ť one who's able-bodied and currently playing in the PYSA's fall recreational or competitive categories. That â€śbuddyâ€ť acts as a teammate of sorts and aids the participant in learning the fundamentals of soccer.
â€śThey play on the same field as the other children, and it brings together both disabled and non-disabled players,â€ť she said. â€śThey learn and develop skills together, and they become a member of the PYSA in a fun and positive environment.â€ť
Should this program eventually skyrocket, Daly admitted she'd love to open it up to young disabled adults who would revel in being involved with a far-reaching community of soccer players.
To register young child, or seek more information, call Cristina at (401) 729-9565.
Currently, the PYSA â€“ which was founded in 1977 â€“ serves over 800 children playing on approximately 70 squads â€“ and that's in the fall recreational and competitive leagues alone.
It also now is offering tryouts to those boys and girls interested in competing for the Under-8, Under-10 and Under-12 travel teams (those which face All-Star contingentsâ€ť from other communities) during the winter season. (There are both indoor and outdoor practices and tilts, and it's appropriately called the â€śPawtucket Storm Selectâ€ť program).
Those sessions will be held at McKinnon-Alves Complex between Sept. 9-14.