TOPSoccer program provides more than an athletic outlet for special needs children

Jonathan Roberts • May 12, 2019 at 12:00 AM

After Ron Kind, Science Hill High School’s Assistant girls Soccer Coach, attended a Joy Prom — a prom for special needs individuals — in December, he knew he needed to do more for a part of our community that doesn't have the same opportunities other children might have.

With the help of his team, East Tennessee State University women’s soccer players and Head Coach Adam Sayers, Science Hill High School and the Johnson City Futbol Club, Kind started a Johnson City chapter of “TOPSoccer” (The Outreach Program Soccer), a nationwide program through U.S. Soccer to give special needs children “the opportunity of soccer.”

“After the Joy Prom, I thought ‘there’s some how, some way I need to get involved (with helping special needs children)’,” Kind said.

After Christmas, Kind said he had a TOPSoccer coach from Florida fly in and train him, JCFC coaches and 20 to 30 buddies on how coach and teach special needs children the game of soccer. The “buddies” are key for a TOPSoccer program, as it relies on a buddy system, where each child is paired with either a coach, a volunteer or, in this case, soccer players from the Science Hill Girls and ETSU Women’s teams. While Kind said he was concerned they wouldn’t have enough buddies at first, those fears were eased with help from the ETSU Women’s Soccer team. 

“We do a lot of community service, in many different areas, and this was another wonderful opportunity for our team to give back to the community, and help the organizers and participants enjoy the game,” said Sayers. “It was our pleasure to be involved.”

For the soccer players, however, the smiles made the one-hour commitment on Sunday’s well worth it.

“I like seeing (the children) smile when they do something they didn’t think they could do,” said Allie Torbett, a junior soccer player at Science Hill and a TOPSoccer buddy. “It’s so much fun.”

Torbett said the program was perfect for her, as she wants to be a child life specialist when she’s older and that she wants to be a buddy again next Spring in her senior year. Her excitement wasn’t an outlier either, as neither Sayers or Kind said they had difficulty convincing their players to come volunteer. 

“Our players are a wonderful group of young women — role models in so many ways — they were extremely enthusiastic and professional (to volunteer), as they are in everything they do,” Sayers said of his players.

“This is a special group of girls ... it’s just overwhelming to me just how energetic they are, how they embrace anything we ask them to do,” said Kind. “I think they’re really experiencing what they’re able to give back to their community.”

While the coaches and “buddies” run the show, the impact of the TOPSoccer program was not lost on the parents of those special needs children.

“Joy. Tears. Words can’t even explain how wonderful it is to see the participation and him just being able to be who he is,” said Paula Greene, whose son Timothy took part in the TOPSoccer program.

For the rest of the parents, the end of TOPSoccer’s first six weeks in Johnson City was upsetting for them and their children, but several said they were excited to hear the program may be coming back next Spring and “potentially” with more weekends.

“I definitely do (see us doing this annually),” said Kind. “We’re considering making (TOPSoccer) a bit longer depending on demand, but finding a facility that’s available to us is the key.”

Kind described the last six weeks as filled with “overwhelming joy”, heading onto the pitch for the final time in the program’s first year — showering his players with praise and support as a smile came across his face that didn’t leave until the end of the day.

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