By Randy Vogt, Director of Public Relations, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
January 27, 2013-The TOPSoccer Program of the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association (ENYYSA) is a wonderful program for kids with special needs. Special Children playing soccer in an organized league actually started in ENYYSA’s largest league, the Long Island Junior Soccer League (LIJSL), when the Huntington Boys Club (HBC) and Massapequa Soccer Club separately started programs in 1978. The HBC program was started by Mike Ludin as he wanted his son Craig, who has Down’s Syndrome, to have the same opportunity to enjoy sports as Craig’s brothers Brian and Evan did. Craig (pictured above) went on to win so many medals in the Special Olympics that he was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.
Today, the Capital District Youth Soccer League, East Hudson Youth Soccer League, Staten Island Youth Soccer League and Westchester Youth Soccer League are the other ENYYSA leagues that have TOPSoccer Programs.
The US government is now ordering schools across the country to make "reasonable" changes to sports programs so that Special Needs students can play––or else create separate teams for them. The new guidance from the Education Department issued last Friday was hailed by advocates for children with Special Needs.
"We think it’s huge and historic. In my opinion, it could have the same effect, if properly implemented, as Title IX did for women," said Kirk Bauer, executive director of Disabled Sports USA. Title IX required schools to offer girls and boys the same athletic opportunities and resulted in a huge uptick in female participation in school sports after it took effect 40 years ago.
"This government initiative is a great thing as every year, we move those with Special Needs closer and closer to having the same opportunities that mainstream kids and adults have always had," commented Pete Bussa, Chairperson of ENYYSA’s TOPSoccer Program.
Under the latest rules, schools must tweak traditional programs to give students an opportunity to play as long as they can do it without fundamentally changing the sport or giving anyone an advantage. For instance, a visual aid instead of a starter pistol for the deaf runner would be easy to implement, while adding a fifth base to a baseball field to shorten running distances would be considered too big a change. If alterations to a traditional team aren’t feasible, schools must create a sports program that is open to Special students, the order says. If there aren’t enough students, schools should seek to create district-wide, regional or mixed-gender programs.
ENYYSA was well ahead of the US government on this very important inclusive issue as we have been providing a TOPSoccer Program for the past 35 years. Besides leading the way with this program, the first-ever indoor soccer tournament for Special Children in New York State was hosted by the LIJSL’s Oceanside United in March 2011.
With 123,843 youth soccer players––68,587 boys and 55,256 girls––and more than 25,000 volunteers, the non-profit Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association (ENYYSA) stretches from Montauk Point, Long Island to the Canadian border. Members are affiliated with 12 leagues throughout the association, which covers the entire state of New York east of Route 81. ENYYSA exists to promote and enhance the game of soccer for children and teenagers between the ages of 5 and 19 years old, and to encourage the healthy development of youth players, coaches, referees and administrators. All levels of soccer are offered––from intramural, travel team and premier players as well as Special Children. No child who wants to play soccer is turned away. ENYYSA is a proud member of the United States Soccer Federation and United States Youth Soccer Association. For more information, please log on to http://www.enysoccer.com/, which receives nearly 300,000 hits annually from the growing soccer community.