By Wendy Hunter, photos by kwebsterphotography.com
The 17th season of Soccer Buddies kicked off in early November at Pine Trails Park in Parkland. Since 2002, Parkland Buddy Sports, in collaboration with the City of Parkland, has been providing youth with special needs an opportunity to participate in integrated sports programs.
Every child has the right to enjoy the fun of playing sports, the joy of teamwork, the achievement of kicking or throwing a ball, scoring a goal, or running across the finish line. Parkland Buddy Sports has cultivated a portfolio of programs – team and individual sports – that engage children and young adults with special needs in athletic activities. Players benefit from being physically active and outside in the fresh air, whether participating in a team sport like soccer or basketball or an individual sport like golf or tennis.
Players are matched with their own “Buddy” volunteer for the entire season. Our volunteers, both students and adults, learn to create an environment void of physical, social and cultural barriers with “No Limits.”
Goals of Parkland Buddies include showing Special Needs Players how not to give up, always try their best, make new friends and have fun! Through their integral involvement in the program, Volunteers/Buddies learn patience, tolerance, responsibility, accountability and that one person really can change the life of another.
Parkland Buddy Sports’ mission is to encourage any child or young adult with a mental or physical disability to thrive on the field. Teams are divided by age and ability, so it’s possible to have children from a wide range of ages on the same team if they play at a similar level. “Our players gain confidence, a sense of belonging, accomplishment, and camaraderie,” says Andrew Zaukas, president of the board for Parkland Buddy Sports. “That confidence derives as much from being physically able to play the sports and as it does from the meaningful interactions made with their buddies, peers and coaches. “ Zaukas adds, “Our players take this sense of accomplishment and confidence off the fields and with them into other parts of their lives as well; school, work, family. Every aspect of their lives is positively affected.”
Over the past 17 years, Parkland Buddy Sports has served thousands of players and recruited thousands of volunteers, many of whom may start out to earn service hours, but stay involved in the program because of the love. Zaukas says, “We’ve seen the great gains our players with special needs make, both physically and emotionally. That’s what keeps the volunteer board actively involved!”
It is just as important for people with disabilities to be physically active and have the opportunity to participate in sports as it is for anyone. Parkland Buddy Sports is a fixture in the community and proudly serves families from all over southeast Florida. Teammates ages 4 and up with special needs are always welcome, and this successful program provides volunteer opportunities for typical teens. For more information regarding this extraordinary program, contact Parkland Buddy Sports at www.ParklandBuddySports.org