Local Students Form Bonds With Special Needs Athletes

Local A

Above left, senior Maddy Shanahan works on a ball drill with TOPSoccer athlete Carson Green. At right, seniors Spencer Paquette and Gavin Carmody are pictured with TOPSoccer athlete Gabe Merritt. Submitted Photos

Local BBERLIN — Members of the Worcester Preparatory School Volunteers Club made a lasting impact in the local community by partnering with TOPSoccer to work with special needs young athletes.

The students included Alec Burbage, Ty Burton, Jordan Campbell, Gavin Carmody, Damiana Colley, Ryan Cronin, Grace Hopkins, Max Huber, Noah Hudson, J.P. Issel, Ashley Laws, Jacob Lewis, C.C. Lizas, Kathryn Marini, Spencer Paquette, Maddy Shanahan, Sam Tinkler, Maddy Warren and Alec Willing.

Back in September, WPS Acting Head of School/Head of Upper School Mike Grosso brought the TOPSoccer program to the attention of the WPS Volunteers Club. TOPSoccer is a community-based training program run out of River Soccer Club that matches athletes who have intellectual, emotional and physical disabilities with high school volunteers who become their “buddies” during the training sessions. Throughout the fall, more than a dozen students volunteered on Saturday afternoons to work with these young athletes in a safe, fun, supportive and inclusive environment.

Though WPS does not require community service hours for students, many do work to help their communities by their own volition. TOPSoccer is one such way the students helped to better the lives of these special needs participants and their families.

“These students have turned out each week in great numbers, and whether they realize it or not, they were positive influences on these kids and their families. We are grateful for their wonderful way with the children as well as their willingness to volunteer,” said Steve Green, one of the organizers of the TOPSoccer program. “These special needs kids can’t participate in competitive soccer leagues for a variety of reasons. This results in feelings of alienation from society for the kids and their families. This program provides them an outlet to just play in a fun and safe environment. The buddies are what make it a success. We can’t do it without them. These volunteers give the parents a break for one hour, and they get to watch their kids interact with positive people in a supportive way.”