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Shaler Soccer Club's success moves leader to position with state program

| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Louis Raggiunti | Shaler Journal
Joy Laurenson giggles as Kelly Donaldson playfully tries to get the soccer ball from her.
Louis Raggiunti | Shaler Journal
Vinny Czado takes a break in the arms of Erin Schreiber during a soccer camp in Shaler that caters to children with special needs.
Louis Raggiunti | Shaler Journal
Joy Laurenson participated in a soccer camp tailored toward children with special needs.

Mike Spagnoletti has worked with the Shaler Soccer Club in recent years to expand its programs to include children with special needs, and now Spagnoletti will be responsible for introducing similar programming across the state.

The youth soccer board of PA West soccer association named Spagnoletti, Shaler Soccer Club president, the new chairman of the PA West TOPSoccer program, which stands for The Outreach Program for Soccer, because of the strides the Shaler club has made to resurrect its own TOPSoccer program.

“We knew that for years Mike had run a camp in the summer for children with disabilities out of his club,” said Natalie Schwoeble, president of the PA West board of directors. “Mike has always presented himself as a club president who is very energetic and interested in kids' development, so when the previous TOPSoccer chair had resigned, Mike was the perfect match.”

Spagnoletti restarted the Shaler Soccer Club's TOPSoccer program five years ago by working with the Challenger Sports British Soccer Camp program, which brings experienced coaches from Great Britain and South America to local soccer clubs, to provide an evening camp for children with special needs in addition to the regular day camp.

The program started in 2009 through a $5,000 grant the soccer club received from Uniroyal in honor of Julie (Jones) McDermott, a former club member. McDermott, now a teacher in the district, was named Volunteer of the Year, in 2002, by US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer.

Since that first year, the Shaler Soccer Club has continued to provide the TOPSoccer summer camps to participants free of charge through club funds and donations.

This year, the Down Syndrome Association of Pittsburgh provided a $1,000 donation to support the camp, which attracted close to 40 children with special needs this summer.

“We had a TOPS program years ago, and I thought it was important to try to do something (again),” Spagnoletti said. “It started with the camp, and when I saw how successful it was at the camp, it extended to the season.”

The Shaler Soccer Club now holds two TOPSoccer seasons each year with 14 to 18 players on the team. The program now is in its ninth season.

“We felt there's a need in the community that wasn't being filled, and this filled it,” Spagnoletti said of the TOPSoccer program. “Soccer, in general, there's a lot of kids doing it. It's not a hard sport to pick up, it's not expensive, and … I felt it was important to bring to Shaler.”

Schwoeble said of the 130 clubs in the state, there are only about half a dozen TOPSoccer programs in PA West.

“We hope more clubs will offer TOPSoccer programs,” she said.

As the chairman of PA West TOPSoccer program, Spagnoletti held a TOPSoccer symposium and coaches workshop earlier this month for soccer clubs in the northeastern region of the country. Representatives of 10 associations from nine states attended the three-day conference to learn how to start TOPSoccer programs, work with children with special needs and identify potential buddies.

As part of the symposium, Spagnoletti arranged for the participating coaches to have the opportunity to apply the lessons they learned with a group of children with special needs on the soccer fields at Denny Field in Shaler.

“The benefit to us (of the TOPSoccer programs) is seeing the kids out there high-fiving you and smiling and fist-bumping you all because they're doing something they never got to do before,” Spagnoletti said.

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or bhofstetter@tribweb.com.

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