BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Once a month, the soccer fields at Independence Park are filled with dozens of kids learning how to play soccer. They're divided into groups, color coordinated with bright mesh jerseys. Each group is taught a skill at one of several stations, led by volunteers and members of the Baton Rouge Soccer Club.
There is lots of running, laughter, and cheering. However, this isn't any ordinary soccer team. The children playing are all special needs.
"The motto of US Youth Soccer is soccer is a game for all kids," said Louisiana Soccer executive director, Tucker Reynolds. "TOPS soccer is just that. It's an outreach to include all kids that otherwise in many other youth sports are excluded."
TOPS, or The Outreach Program for Soccer, is a program that invites kids with disabilities or special needs to come out and spend an afternoon learning how to play the game. The Baton Rouge Soccer Club has hosted TOPS events since December of 2015, with well over 100 kids joining in at times.
"As along as they can learn some skills and leave with a smile on their face, then we've done our job," said Baton Rouge Soccer Club executive director Louie Smothermon.
Along with learning the basic skills of the game, kids are also taught how to work together as a team. Many, like 12-year-old Shelby Walker, are already soccer fans and love the chance to play the game they've often watched from the sidelines. "I think they're really helpful for people and for me, because I like to watch soccer videos, and it's really good that we get to learn how to play soccer," said Walker.
"It also tells the parents they're not alone," said Reynolds. "There are people out there that are thinking of them and their children and we want them to have fun, not just in the game, but fun in getting out and doing what all other kids are able to do."
The next TOPS programs are schedule for the following dates and times:
- Wednesday, October 11 - Independence Park, Field 7: 10 -11:30 a.m.
- Wednesday, November 1 - Independence Park, Field 7: 10 - 11:30 a.m.
Anyone interested in volunteering for or participating in TOPS soccer, click here.