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Shaler soccer camp proves special children can play, too

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By Alaina Raftis
Thursday, Aug. 19, 2010

Third-grader Kaitlyn Anderson paced back and forth in her bright blue jersey with a soccer ball in hand.

"Can I start yet?" she asked. "I'm ready to play!"

She was anticipating the start of her three-day soccer camp at Denny Field in Shaler.

"She's been waiting for this all year," Amy Anderson said of her daughter, who has Down Syndrome.

The Shaler Soccer Club, in partnership with the Down Syndrome Association of Pittsburgh, is hosting a free soccer camp for 37 Pittsburgh area children with various special needs this week. The players are learning everything from kicking and throwing balls to running various drills with nine British soccer coaches hired by Challenger Sports of Kansas.

This marked the second year for the event. Julie McDermott, a former student and now a teacher at Shaler Area High School, earned a $5,000 grant from the Uniroyal Buddy of the Year award for her work with special-needs players in 2002 and worked with the Shaler Soccer Club to make the event possible last August.

"It was so successful, and that's why we're doing it again this year," said Mike Spagnoletti, president of the Shaler Soccer Club.

The goal of the camp was to give children with disabilities an opportunity to play soccer just like other children — and it was reached.

"Kaitlyn brought her soccer pictures from last year to school on 'All about me' day and everyone was like 'Wow! You play soccer too?' " said Amy Anderson. "It's wonderful."

Ben Jackson, a soccer player from Leicester, United Kindgom, and coach with Challenger Sports said, "This is my first experience (working with special-needs kids) and it's so much fun watching them have fun. I get a lot of satisfaction out of it."

The Down Syndrome Association became involved with the event and donated $1,000 because it supports the mission of helping enrich the lives of families and children who suffer from disabilities, said Margaret Olisky, president of the association.

Joe McGuigan, treasurer of the association, returned to the camp this year with his 6-year-old granddaughter, Sara. "One of the things we try to do is spread the word, and this is the only adaptive soccer program we've come across," he said. "We hope to continue this next year."

Todd Rooney, a member of the Shaler Soccer Club, coaches a league named Top Soccer in the fall and began allowing special-needs children to be a part of the season.

His daughter, Emma, was a participant in the soccer camp and has been playing on her father's team for two seasons.

"I love soccer," said Emma, when she had finished her hour-and-a-half camp session.

"This isn't about competitiveness. The focus is skill-building, teamwork and building confidence in the children," said Rooney.

Spagnoletti said he's committed to continuing this program as long as he can find the funding for it.

"It's all about having fun," he said. "I'll pack this field with hundreds of kids. ... We just need the support."



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