Archived Story

A league of their own

Published 10:08pm Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Parents say that one of the hardest things for their disabled children is the isolation they experience, since they’re often unable to participate in so many of the activities their friends take for granted.

While other children their age are participating in Scouts or dance classes or many of the other organized activities that occupy youngsters and keep their parents driving back and forth from school and home all week, children with disabilities ranging from autism to Down syndrome and more often find themselves sitting at home, unable to participate.

Even in an era of broader access than ever for Americans with disabilities, the opportunities are still more limited for children with conditions that set them apart from their peers.

Two Suffolk Youth Athletic Association leaders with autistic sons saw what it was like for their kids to be unable to participate with other children their age in the youth league’s large soccer program and decided recently to do something about it. Because of the pair’s commitment to improving the organization’s offerings, SYAA will have an Athletes With Special Needs division in its soccer lineup this year.

Whether the youth has autism, Down syndrome or another disability, SYAA deputy soccer commissioner Nestor Andino said, the program will be an avenue for anyone with special needs under the age of 19 that wants to and is able to come out and play. Each of the special-needs participants will be paired with a buddy to help on the field and make sure everyone’s safe.

As important, though, each of the special-needs participants will actually be participating, instead of watching from the sidelines or wondering what it would be like to be running around the soccer pitch with other kids their age.

“I think it’s just a great opportunity for them to work within groups, because a lot of times they tend to be by themselves,” SYAA soccer coach Derk Gregory, who will manage the program, said recently. “Just being able to work as a team, I think, is going to help them immensely.”

This new program is a great opportunity for kids to enjoy soccer who might otherwise never get the chance to do so. Online registration is available at The price per player is $85, and registration will be open through late August.


Editor's Picks