TOPSoccer Builds Soccer and Social Skills


Stafford Soccer

TOPSoccer mascot plays soccer with children and other attendees. Picture taken from Stafford Soccer Facebook page.

Abby Burtner, Sports Editor

Players throwing around the turf, sitting in goals, engaging in conversation among their peers, running to the nearby playgrounds, dribbling off and around the field, all while building connections and skill. TOPSoccer is an all volunteer program that allows children with intellectual, emotional or physical disabilities to play soccer with the opportunity to play and learn the sport. The spring season kicked off April 22, with practices every Saturday.

“When we started TOPs we knew there was a great need for more inclusive programs within our community. Ten years later, we are so proud of the athletes and volunteers that have participated. Very often we find we learn more from the players than they learn from us!” Sean Harrigan, a lead coach, said.

After being shut down due to COVID-19, players, buddies, and coaches are all excited for the program to start up the spring season again.

“Our team at Stafford Soccer is excited we’ve been able to re-engage our TOPSoccer program after a short hiatus and again support our community of special needs players. Additionally, we love the ability to provide volunteer opportunities to our “buddies“ and foster their passion for community service,” Victor Fuster, TOPSoccer club president and coach said.

TOPSoccer runs on donations and is an all-volunteer program. Volunteer buddies get paired with their players based on their personalities, and they remain paired for the duration of the season.

“I have been a buddy in the TOPSoccer program for 10 years and being able to connect with someone over our mutual love of the game of soccer is such a rewarding experience. TOPSoccer is really not about whether a player can follow directions on passing or dribbling, but instead a program that enables children with special needs to do something that they truly enjoy and to be able to socialize with people who they may not regularly have an opportunity to interact with,” Ava Hecker (‘23), a volunteer buddy, said.

The program provides a chance to players with mental or physical disabilities that may not be accessible to them normally. Players aren’t the only people grateful for this opportunity, parents also express their gratitude for the program as well.

“My son has always wanted to just run and play with the other kids. TOPSoccer was a great missing link he needed,” Marian Stensrude, TOPSoccer player parent, said.

The fondness and memories built between players don’t only last on the field, but off the field as well.

My son sometimes didn’t seem to participate, or would only hang in there for 15 minutes at times. This winter though, every time we drove by the soccer fields he would say ‘Let’s go play soccer,’

— Marian Stensrude

“My son sometimes didn’t seem to participate, or would only hang in there for 15 minutes at times. This winter though, every time we drove by the soccer fields he would say ‘Let’s go play soccer.’ It’s a reminder that sometimes these kids may or may not look like they are engaged or learning, but truly they are in their own way and on their own timetable. It was the first time he ever asked to go play in the field, which means more than anything,” Marian said.

Specifically, the connection created between the players and buddies is an everlasting bond.

“I’m not sure anyone will truly understand how much the kindness of the staff to let our son participate meant to us. I thank them for not shaming him for wanting to be out there, and for playing with him and caring about him,” Marian said.

Around the school, volunteer buddies also partake in the program.

“I really enjoy being able to connect on a different level with my player. Even if we aren’t always talking about soccer, nothing beats seeing the joy on their face,” Jordyn Samuels (‘25), TOPSoccer buddy, said.

Although the season has already begun, the program is always looking for new volunteers to add to the community.