By Barbara Gobbi
With performances and guests that would rival any Olympic opening ceremony, Parkland Buddy Soccer kicked off their 12th season on November 16th at Quigley Park in Parkland.
As hundreds of players, parents and volunteers took to the field, the game day began with a performance by the Stoneman Douglas High School Band followed by Westglades Middle School’s very own Katie Stadler who sang the Star Spangled Banner. The star of the afternoon was guest of honor, Staff Sergeant Brian Mast, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and recipient of numerous medals and commendations for heroism.
But creating an event this grandiose didn’t happen overnight. The seed was planted in 2002 when founder Jeb Niewood and his son Kevin started Soccer Buddies for Kevin’s friend, Bradley Schneider, who has Down Syndrome. In their first season, they had only 20 players and 30 student volunteer buddies. Today, Soccer Buddies alone has over 250 participants (players and student volunteers.) In addition to soccer, players flock to Parkland from Wellington to Miami to play flag football, running, basketball, tennis and kickball.
Hundreds of volunteers work to make this program a success because for these children with special needs, this is their time to shine on the soccer field. They are encouraged and motivated to overcome their own perceived fears or limitations. The motto of Soccer Buddies is “NO LIMITS.”
Our 7 year old son Jack, who is autistic, is in his third year of Buddy Sports. As the parent of a child with special needs, watching our son beam as he runs up and down the field and scores a goal while dozens of other children and parents cheer him on is something my husband and I never dreamed would happen for our son.
Jeb Niewood has also now created Tomorrow’s Dreams Today, in partnership with School of Rock and the YMCA of Broward. In this music class each child, called a Rock Star, is paired with a student volunteer, called Roadies.
Eleven years after that initial soccer game, Jeb Niewood and his vision to create an environment for children with special needs and to raise awareness and sensitivity about children with different abilities has touched hundreds of lives and taught us all that there are “No Limits.”
For more information about Parkland Buddy Sports, Tomorrow’s Dreams Today or the No Limits Park please contact Jeb Niewood at Jniewood@aol.com.