Kyle Dedrick may be a star on the field as a freshman standout on the Wilton High School soccer team, but he, along with his soccer-playing, younger brother, Sean, is making a significant impact of a different sort. The Dedrick brothers have created TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer), a soccer series through the Wilton Soccer Association for children ages 5-18 with special needs who oftentimes don’t have an easy time playing organized sports.
The program pairs each registrant with one or two peer buddies to help them learn fundamentals of the sport during weekly Saturday instruction, practice and scrimmage play. The sessions will be held at Comstock soccer field, starting Saturday April 30.
Kyle, 15, says the idea grew out of his involvement with the high school’s Top Inclusion Models club, which, he says, “is meant to include people out of the mainstream and kids with disabilities.”
“It’s our love for soccer,” adds Sean, 13. “We thought it would be great if other kids could experience what we have.”
Sean says that a close family friend is a child with autism, and that’s been inspirational to the brothers as well. “He’s a nice guy so we thought it was a good idea to start it for kids like him.”
For many of the players this is the first time they’re taking part in an organized sport program. “So many parents that we’ve talked to have said, ‘Where has this program been before?’” recounts Kyle. “Most of the players have [typical] brothers and sisters and they watch their siblings play the game. There really is a need for an inclusion program in this area. That we get to jumpstart it is really great.”
For parents of the players, a program like this has been a long coming. Janine Kelly, whose 9 year old son, Matthew, will participate as a TOPS player, says, “A lot of the kids have never had the opportunity to be part of a team before, either because of the extra time it may take to focus on learning the physical, athletic skills or because the social aspect of team play may be a challenge. This is their chance to do that in a safe place, and there really hasn’t been an opportunity just like this in Wilton before.”
A central part of the program is the pairing of each player with peer buddies to help them. More than 40 buddies were recruited from the Top Inclusion Model program. Buddying, say the Dedricks, encourages inclusion and friendship between students of all abilities and helps each player focus better on individual goals.
Matthew Kelly’s mom, Janine, echoes just how important this buddying is. “The key is the one-on-one attention from a peer buddy who is aware of their needs and how to help them be successful.”
The buddies have been trained and prepped by Jim Lovelace, the psychologist at Cider Mill, and the program is being overseen by Jim Lewicki, the program coordinator at the Wilton Parks and Recreation department.
“It’s an absolute great idea,” raves Lewicki. “I’m excited about it, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The Dedrick boys are quick to credit others who have helped them kick off the program, including friends in Trumbull and elsewhere who have started their own TOPS programs, or local businesses like Wilton Sport Shop and Soccer and Rugby, which have also gotten behind the program by donating uniforms and gear. “We couldn’t have done this without a lot of help from so many,” says Sean.
The TOPS league spring session has filled up quickly, with close to 30 children who registered. The Dedrick brothers and Lewicki say they’re planning another session in the fall. Parents can find more information on the WSA website, www.wiltonsoccer.info.