In the winter of 2010, Stanley Shauna read an article about the New Jersey State Soccer Association looking for leagues to start up a TOPSoccer program for special needs players.
“Shauna brought the idea to me and we decided to start the program,” Gibbs said. “The first couple of years it was run outdoors at White Lake Field. The third year we had a lot rain in the fall so we decided to move it indoors at The Fieldhouse. Parents came to us and informed us they enjoyed it better inside because it was in enclosed area.”
Former mayor, Gilbert Gibbs, and fellow Sparta resident Shauna Stanley head up the program for kids with special, which started Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. The Outreach Program for Soccer (TOPSoccer) is for children ages five through 16 with physical and/or intellectual disabilities. It's modified version of soccer, specifically altered to allow enjoyment for each athlete. It's at the Fieldhouse, in Sparta, for the next five Saturdays from noon to 1 p.m.
“We want to show them that even though they have a handicap, they can play sports also,” Gibbs said.
Typically, the program has 25 to 30 players and each player has a “buddy” instructor who plays on the Sparta High School team.
“These buddy's are trained to work with the players on different drills depending on their skill and how to work with these players emotionally,” Gibbs said.
Some of the drills are simple like kicking into the net and small soccer games. It all depends on the skill level.
“The program is a learning experience for our high school buddies,” Stanley said. “It's amazing how they come back every year.”
Each player receives a jersey to practice in and their is no cost to the family. At the end of the season, the Sparta Elks runs a Halloween Party for the players, buddy's, and families. They also give each player a trophy and a soccer ball. They sponsor the program and donate enough money to cover the cost to run the program.
“Without the Elks Club the program would not exist or we would have to charge for the program which we do not want to do,” Gibbs said.
The State Elks Club has a summer camp program called Camp Moore. This is a program for special needs kids can go to an overnight camp for one week for free. The Sparta Elks sponsors four or five kids each year from the TOPSoccer program. The Sparta Kiwanis Club is involved, too, and throws a barbecue after the last practice. During practice, parents can take a break.
“It is their one hour to have a cub of coffee and relax," Gibbs said. "Their job is 24/7 with a special needs child and we want to give them one hour off to take a deep breath.”
For further information, e-mail Gibbs at email@example.com or Stanley at firstname.lastname@example.org.