The Outreach Program for Soccer, better known as TOPSoccer, will finish up this weekend as the fall soccer season comes to a close. The seven-week season was River Soccer Club’s first effort at hosting the program, which appeals to children with cognitive and/or physical disabilities.
According to River Soccer board member Howard Gerken, the season was very successful. “There are a number of other soccer clubs in Delaware that offer the program. This was our first attempt and we’re really excited about it.”
Gerken, who helped found the River Soccer Club, headed the program with wife Sandy and fellow board member Linda Brown.
“We hook [the athletes] up with a buddy or two and they work on soccer skills and play some small-sided soccer games, that kind of thing,” Gerken explained. The buddies – middle- or high-school age students — worked each week with the players in Saturday sessions, running from noon to 1 p.m. The 15 ‘buddies’ who worked with the program went through a training session as preparation.
“We have 11 kids in the program, so if everyone shows, that gives us at least one buddy per kid, and sometimes two on a given day,” Gerken said. “I think, initially, the ‘buddies’ were apprehensive. They didn’t know quite what to expect, but after the first week, they jumped in and they really made the program, along with the players.”
“It’s a great experience to see the kids connecting with somebody, to see them playing games that they feel good about, and basically just have some fun,” said Gerken.
“It provides an opportunity for the children to play soccer in a program, where some of them wouldn’t be able to compete in a regular game,” said Sandy Gerken. “Although, I think some of them could.”
“We have some kids who are very close to being able to play in a rec program,” added Howard Gerken.
Kathy Ferber said the program has been a great chance for her daughter Liz to enjoy herself and stay active.
“It was fine when she was younger,” said Ferber. “We could participate in some of the local parks-and-rec programs, but as the kids get older, it gets very competitive. It gets harder and harder to find something that’s open to them, where they can be successful and still be part of a team.
“This has filled that niche beautifully. It was wonderful for him to see a need and take some action,” Ferber said of Howard Gerken. They’ve done a really great job.”
“What I particularly like,” stated Howard Gerken, “is the rapport that has developed between some of our players and the buddy they are working with. There have been some great relationships that have been built that way.”
While the season will be taking a break this winter, Howard Gerken said he will continue to offer the program through the rest of the year. “Our intention is to have something definitely in the spring, and maybe tie something in with the summer camps that we offer at River Soccer Club. We want to provide as many opportunities as we can.”
“The River Soccer Club has taken this on as a special part of their program, as well,” said Howard Gerken. “We’re hoping our numbers will increase in the future. All the clubs we’ve talked to who have had the program have generally started small, and once the word gets spread, we will get more kids involved and participating. We want this to be an ongoing program.”
For more information about TOPSoccer, contact Howard Gerken at (302) 732-6835.