PAWTUCKET — 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.
“When I heard that, I was interested in finding out more information,” said Daly, relaxing at a picnic table within the McKinnon-Alves Soccer Complex recently. “This 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.
“I 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.”
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 “TOPSoccer,” an acronym for “The Outreach Program for Soccer.” 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 – 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 “TOPSoccer,” and “we're excited to be one of them,” she stated.
Actually, it's already begun at this complex, though is still in its infancy.
“We're up and running with six registered players,” Daly gleamed. “They 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 – the rules, how to kick a ball, stop it, pass, dribble and shoot.
“I'm really excited about it,” she added. “I 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 … When I first heard about this, I thought it was a wonderful idea.
“This area is so diverse, and soccer is such a staple around here – everybody plays it and wants to learn how – 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.”
Daly claimed she has reached out to such organizations as Special Olympics and Meeting Street School, but – without those officials knowing much about the program's stability, as it's so new – has received little feedback.
“Our biggest hurdle has been getting the word out,” she noted. “This 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.”
TOPSoccer caters to all kids 4-18, and – right now – Daly has enrolled youngsters with Autism, Down Syndrome, etc.
“We also have a child in a wheelchair,” she stated. “I've been to some of the sessions, and the kids are having a blast!”
Here's why: Each child is partnered with what she calls a “buddy,” one who's able-bodied and currently playing in the PYSA's fall recreational or competitive categories. That “buddy” acts as a teammate of sorts and aids the participant in learning the fundamentals of soccer.
“They play on the same field as the other children, and it brings together both disabled and non-disabled players,” she said. “They learn and develop skills together, and they become a member of the PYSA in a fun and positive environment.”
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 – which was founded in 1977 – serves over 800 children playing on approximately 70 squads – 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 contingents” from other communities) during the winter season. (There are both indoor and outdoor practices and tilts, and it's appropriately called the “Pawtucket Storm Select” program).
Those sessions will be held at McKinnon-Alves Complex between Sept. 9-14.