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Roswell Youth Soccer reaches out to special needs kids

Special needs kids are getting coached during a Roswell Youth Soccer practice with the TOPS program. RYSA is trying to reach out to more special needs kids and give them a chance to be a part of the fun. (Submitted Photo)

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It’s time for Roswell Youth Soccer again, and RYSA president Matthew Shappard is ready.

“We’ve got another great upcoming season with almost 800 kids signed up,” Shappard said. “Right now, we’re in administration phases, trying to make sure every coach has concussion training and that we’ve done the risk management background checks. We try to keep kids in a safer environment.
“There will be seven weekends of games. The games will likely go from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. but it depends on some variables.”
Shappard is hoping to see more special needs kids out on the field this year.
“Our next focus is shifting onto the TOPS program,” he said. “TOPS means The Outreach Program for Soccer. Our goal is to help kids with special needs come out and enjoy soccer. We’re not charging any registration fee for them and there’s no deadline for them to start playing. They can contact me at my number, 575-420-0188, at any point and we’ll sign them up and get them on the field feeling like they’re part of everyone else out there, the way they should feel.”
After last year’s success, RYSA presented their experience at the state level. The program is taking off.
“We presented the TOPS program before the state soccer board,” Shappard said. “We’re beginning to see similar programs in other parts of the state. They’re giving kids with special needs a chance to play soccer and kick a ball in a goal.”
Shappard and his group of coaches and referees love working with special needs kids.
“It’s exciting to get these kids in as part of the RYSA group,” he said, “to get that jersey, and just to come out and have fun. I have a lot of teens that just want to be around the special needs kids.”
Shappard is hoping to hear from groups that serve special needs kids so that he can extend the invitation to as many families as possible.
“Last season we had about 12 kids in TOPS,” he said. “This year so far we have between five and seven that might. We want more. We buy special equipment for the kids. We have big soccer balls for kids to push with their wheel chair. We have things to help blind kids, and kids with sensory deprivation. We want those kids to know that they belong out there.”
He also expressed deep appreciation for a group that volunteers regularly and really makes a difference with the kids.
“We’ve got a great group of volunteers with the Youth ChalleNGe Academy,” Shappard said. “Richard Martinez, Christopher Lara and all the other leaders bring those kids out and they’re amazing.”

With the size of the group this year, Shappard said they need more referees.
“Referees are needed,” he said. “A lot of times the rules have been updated and the referees usually know about these before everybody else. For example, headers are now illegal for kids under a certain age, but all adults remember doing them when we were kids. I wonder how more of us might have turned out if they’d thought about concussions back when we were kids.”
The concussion program teaches the coaches how to help kids avoid getting a concussion, what to look for if there is a possibility that there is a concussion, how to respond to it if they might have one and then how to deal with the family and medical situation if it needs to go that far.
“Ultimately,” Shappard said, “our first concern is about the safety of the kids being more important than winning.”
Shappard was also happy to start a new age group this year in answer to a problem he observed this past year.
“This season we started a new U-16 group,” he said. “I noticed when I got the honor to referee some of the middle schools this year that a lot of kids who had really sharp skills at RYSA had aged out at 13. They went 11 months without touching a soccer ball, then they played for five weeks. Then they’d go another 11 months without playing, and another five weeks of playing. Somehow this was supposed to translate to better high school players and teams.
“So I developed the U-16 age group where the kids come out just for fun 3 vs. 3 with guest coaches teaching proper headers, teaching shooting, teaching trapping a ball, things like that to better develop the kids, the team and the school. Any kids born from 2002 to 2004 are welcome to the U-16 team.”
Shappard said that as well as getting more special needs kids in the TOPS program, he also hopes to see Dexter and Hagerman schools run a soccer program of their own so his RYSA kids from those areas can keep building their skills.
To learn more about connecting with RYSA or to help a kid get involved, you can find them on Facebook by searching for Roswell Youth Soccer.
Features reporter Curtis M. Michaels can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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