It all began with one little boy’s wish to play soccer, but it wasn’t quite that simple. This little boy has autism, with global development delay, and although high functioning, being on a typical soccer team with other kids his age led to meltdowns with him sitting on the field with his hands over his ears.
His physical therapist, Jennifer Highbarger, from ECSE (Early Childhood Special Education) remembered this bright smiling young 4-year-old, and his mom’s comment, that she wished he had the oppportunity to play soccer like all other 4-year-olds his age. He loved kicking the ball around the backyard with his mom. He loved to run.
Joshua is the little boy, now 5. His love of running and his strong desire to play soccer prompted Jennifer to take some chances. She had already started a dance organization, DanceAbility, a dance organization that serves children and adults with disabilities, run through the Missouri Contemporary Ballet.
She began doing some research and learned of TOPSoccer, a national soccer organization for people of all ages. TOPSoccer was created for children and adults with disabilities who would otherwise not be able to play soccer or be physically active.
She began to reach out in different directions. Jennifer having two children of her own, both played competitive soccer for an organization formerly known as Tamashi Futbol Club, owned and run by Coach Adam Booth.
She approached him with the idea, “Would you be interested in getting involved?” Without a hesitation, his response, “Absolutely!”
Doors began to open…
Over the course of a year, changes occurred, Tamashi merged with Synergy Sports, owned and managed by Coach Rylan Adams and Anne Sievers. This made Jennifer and Joshua’s vision of bringing soccer to people with disabilities a reality, as Synergy had the indoor soccer fields that were necessary. They gladly donated their space and time.
Volunteers were needed to finish bringing this project to life. Jennifer reached out to both Columbia Select soccer players and MIZZOU physical and occupational therapist students. The response was enormous.
A training session was scheduled for October 2nd, with 18 soccer players and another former Tamashi coach, showing up, along with just as many, or more, MIZZOU physical/occupational therapists, excited to be a part.
Wednesday, October 9th, the TOPSoccer program, via Synergy, launched a pilot program, to be open to the general public come January.
Along with Josh, 9 other excited athletes, and parents were enthusiastic to be a part. Adam Booth led the soccer session, getting all participants involved and active.
Coaching was modified. Starting with stretching and warming up. Then, activities were geared towards the players kicking the ball on the field. Eventually the idea, with a fun variation, of kicking the ball in the goal was implemented. Everyone running on the field, involved in Adam’s games, it was obvious the night was a success.
These same techniques will be used the next 3 sessions with the final day ending in a game of soccer.
Meet a few of the Top Soccer Athletes.
Joshua is five years old. His loves are the outdoors, running, and kicking the soccer ball with his mom. Joshua was diagnosed with autism and global development delay at age 2. His mother, Melanie, along with his younger brother Gideon, moved to Columbia a year ago from Sullivan, MO so that Joshua could receive opportunities not offered in many areas.
Joshua’s evalution of his 1st TOPSoccer session? “I LOVED IT!” he shared with a big smile and a fierce fist bump of enthusiasm.
Anna, is TOPSoccer’s oldest player, age 29. She is a lover of all sports having participated in the Special Olympics for many years. Some of the sports she’s competed in are swimming, track & field, volleyball, bowling, tennis, and power lifting. Now, thanks to the volunteers bringing TOPSoccer to Columbia, she can add soccer to her list.
Speaking with Anna, she said that she loves sports, but “they don’t come naturally.” She is one of 6 children, and has grown up watching them able to play all sports.
Her mother Denise, and father Larry, founder of Coyote Hill, a Christian children’s home for abused and neglected children, believe in finding activities that boost a child’s self-esteem. Denise called it, “Plugged in to feel successful.” Anna, looked like she was “plugged-in” after her first soccer session.
Her comment, “I really liked everything! The coach was really good!”
William is 5 years old and one of the youngest players at TOPSoccer. Surrounded by volunteers to support and encourage, William perhaps needed the most encouragement.
William was born with Down Syndrome and had to go through several years of therapy just to learn how to even walk. The idea of soccer is new to him.
After an hour of direction though, this bright smiling boy was kicking the ball with his assistants, laughing all the way. His parents, Jessica and Adam, proudly stood nearby, along with brother, Aiden.