TOPS kicking off this Saturday


Coastal Point photos • Submitted : Players gather with their soccer buddies at The River Soccer Club in Roxana during The Outreach Program for Soccer (TOPS) program.Coastal Point photos • Submitted : Players gather with their soccer buddies at The River Soccer Club in Roxana during The Outreach Program for Soccer (TOPS) program.Every kid deserves an opportunity to participate in sports. The River Soccer Club provides that chance starting this Saturday beginning at 12 p.m.

The Outreach Program for Soccer (TOPS), is a nationally recognized soccer program that is a community-based training and team placement program for young athletes with disabilities, which is organized by youth soccer association volunteers. The program is designed to bring the opportunity of learning and playing soccer to any boy or girl, who has a mental or physical disability. The goal of TOPSoccer is to enable the thousands of young athletes with disabilities to become valued and successful members of the US Youth Soccer family.

“It is a national program that we started about 12 years ago,” said Howard Gerken, who was an inaugural member of the Indian River Soccer Hall of Fame. “We run the program two times a year in the Spring and Fall. This coming fall will actually start our 13th year with the program.”

Gerken, along with his wife Sandie, run the TOPS program in conjunction with The River Soccer Club’s recreational soccer program. It allows for kids between the ages of 4-19 to participate in the program.

“The key to our program is we put them with a soccer buddy,” Howard Gerken said. “There is a variety of training and games that we do with them. Each age is obviously different, and the level of play varies. Really though, the key to our program is having the high school and middle school soccer players that volunteer and act as a buddy.”

“The 1-on-1 aspect is very important,” Sandie Gerken added. “They are paired with the same player each week. We adapt our program and training for them, and the most important part is that they have fun.”

There is a TOPS program in the state, but the River Soccer Club is the only local-based club that offers the program.

“We have kids from all over Sussex County,” said Howard Gerken. “Kids come from Rehoboth Beach, Seaford, Laurel, Georgetown …”

“We even have had some from Berlin (Md.),” chimed in Sandie Gerken. “We are always trying to reach out to let people know about our program. We work with any kids that have a physical or cognitive disability, or kids that have slower development issues.”

The TOPS program with River Soccer Club is just $20 per player, and the fee provides a shirt and soccer ball. The program runs for eight-weeks from 12:00-1:00 p.m. at the club’s fields located at 32221 Gum Road in Roxana (Frankford).

For more information, or to register for the program, call coaches Pete Bussa at (516) 456-5828 or Howard/Sandie Gerken at (302) 732-6835. Email is also available at hgerken@verizon.net.

Registration will also be available on the first day. Anyone interested in becoming a TOPSoccer Buddy may contact the coaches previously listed.

EXTRA TIME: TOPSoccer was formed to perpetuate the US Youth Soccer mission statement which is, in part, “to foster the physical, mental and emotional growth and development of America’s youth through the sport of soccer at all levels of age and competition.” There are thousands of children with disabilities who need and can be provided with the opportunity to play soccer through the TOPSoccer program, according to the website for US Youth Soccer.