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Township Soccer Club Offers Playing Time To Special Needs Students Through TOPSoccer Program

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TOPSoccer players, in the green shirts, talk to their “buddy” volunteers.


It was three years ago that nancy Llanos got the idea to help her special-needs son play soccer close to home.

Llanos said she told her husband, Rich, a board member of the Franklin Township Soccer Club, that the club should offer soccer to kids with special needs.

They turned to TOPSoccer, a national program designed to do just that. TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer) has 14 other programs in New Jersey.

Llanos said she had been taking her son to Princeton to play soccer.

“When my daghter was here playing regular soccer, I would say to my husband, you know it’s kind of crazy, we service over 800 kids in the this township through the soccer program and we have a good amount of kids who have special needs in the district, it would be great if we could do something special for them so they could particpate in something in their neighborhood, seeing their peers that they see in school all the time,” she said. “We wanted to get that neighborhood feeling of inclusion.”

TOPSoccer pairs the player with an older “buddy” to help them learn and play soccer. Llanos said students from Franklin Middle School and Franklin High School volunteer their time to be buddies.

The first season was Fall 2013, and the program ran for four weeks, she said.

“We wanted to see if there was any interest,” Llanos said.

Apparently, there was.

“We ended up with about 35 players and 40-some buddies,” she said. “At the end of the four weeks, every parents said, can we do this all the time?”

Now, TOPSoccer runs concurrent with the regular FTSC schedules in the Fall and Spring, she said, although participation is usually greater in the Spring because the buddy volunteers are playing soccer for their schools earlier in the school year.

The program is open to children in grades 1-12, with the elementary aged kids and the middle and high school students in separate divisions, Llanos said.

“In the older group, most of the kids have been with us since the very first season,” she said. “It’s been great to see them evolve. Most of them started out with buddies, and many don’t need buddies now, they know what they have to do.”

Th older children have progressed to the point where they can play against another team, she said.

“That wasn’t necessarily something we thought of when we started the progran, but now we have gotten to the point where we can scrimmage if we have enough buddies,” she said. “We will have the players scrimmage against the buddies.”

TOPSoccer players receive uniforms and participation trophies, just like players in the rest of the club.

“It’s fun to see the interaction,” Llanos said. “It’s been win-win for everybody.”

 

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Copyright 2016 The Franklin Reporter & Advocate

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