By Randy Vogt, Director of Public Relations, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
February 19, 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 1979. 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.
"I was coaching my middle son Evan when Craig was very young and he reached into my bag, pulled out a whistle and started blowing it as he ran on the field," Mike commented. "My wife and I then realized that there was not going to be a place for Craig to play. So we brainstormed and the HBC Special Children’s Program was born."
Mike credits the program plus decades of soccer games and practices for making Craig who he is today––high school graduate, public speaker, longtime clerk at Capital One Bank and an inductee of the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
"It’s pretty cool that there’s a plaque of Craig alongside the plaques of Sandy Koufax and Mark Spitz," Mike said.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame, located in Commack, in 2007.
"I am here to honor my student," Rabbi Mark Gellman of the God Squad said during the invocation, "and in ways he'll never know, my teacher."
"To have you up here representing your coaches and family is incredibly inspiring to me," fellow inductee Dwight Stones told Craig during the ceremonies.
After graduating from the Association for Children with Down Syndrome, Craig studied in his home school district, Half Hollow Hills, in a self-contained program. Craig graduated from Half Hollow Hills High School West in 1995 where he was the co-winner of the Board of Education award given to a student of Character, Service and Academic Achievement. He shared this award with the class valedictorian, Alberto Hazan, who went on to attend Harvard. Craig’s graduation award was front page news in Newsday the next day.
Now 37 years old, he remains very involved with HBC soccer and the Special Olympics. In the latter, he has competed in soccer, swimming, cross country skiing, golf, floor hockey, power lifting and even paddle skiing. Last September at Cantiague Park in Hicksville, he competed in the bocce competition, becoming perhaps the first Jewish Hall of Famer ever to play bocce.
Along with his HBC teammates, Craig has won more than 20 gold medals in soccer from the Special Olympics and countless awards from the LIJSL. The Dix Hills resident has excelled even more in the pool, winning more than 50 gold medals, 30 silver medals and 10 bronzes in the Special Olympics swimming competition.
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.