Children race across the soccer field grinning from ear to ear, eyes beaming as they learn skills and play games, and it’s all because of Rocky Point’s TOPSoccer league, which is a program for children with mental and physical disabilities.
“We’ve been in a couple of programs where it was hard for them to keep up with the other kids, and this one, working with the big kids is amazing,” said Samantha Netburn, whose young children Justin and Summer participate in the league. “They really support them.”
Rocky Point varsity soccer coaches Joe Camarda and Pete Costa have wanted to start the program for years now, but hadn’t had enough interest. The two also teach in the district, and after hearing some parents were looking for a program like this one, the coaches teamed up with Long Island Junior Soccer League to create the current team, which has approximately 10 kids along with varsity team members as helpers.
“For our first year I think it’s a successful program,” Camarda said. “I like to see the interaction between the varsity kids and the kids that are involved.”
Athletes from the boys’ and girls’ teams donate their time, teaching the kids how to dribble, juggle and play offense and defense. They also group up to do various exercises, and the volunteers encourage the kids and repeatedly tell the young athletes how great a job they’re doing. The team recently competed in its first tournament, where Rocky Point played two games against TOPS teams from other clubs in Commack. There were close to 300 members competing.
Netburn said it has really boosted her children’s self-esteem.
“It’s such a small community and everyone is so kind to each other,” she said. “My kids look forward to coming here.”
Michele Anzaldi, whose son Frankie is in the league, said she too hadn’t been able to find anything like it for her son.
“He absolutely loves soccer — we love our ‘soccer Saturday’ and Frankie looks at the weather all week long to make sure it’s going to hold up for soccer,” she said. “We’re so grateful that the coaches and kids are taking the time and it’s refreshing to see high school kids treating kids with disabilities so well and so nicely.”
Frankie said he’s having a lot of fun.
“I like to play soccer,” he said, after scoring a hat trick. “It’s awesome.”
For varsity players like Ryan Hembury, it’s also a great time.
“It’s a good thing to do for the community and a way to give back,” he said.
Registration is still open at www.rockypointsoccerclub.com, with two more weekends left in the spring before a trophy day on June 11. The program could return in the fall, and Netburn said she’s already spreading the word and getting more families involved.
“It’s nice to see everyone happy,” Camarda said. “It’s a reward you can’t pay for.”