Players, volunteers get kick out of Penn Hills soccer program for special needs kids
As Robyn McKee dribbled a soccer ball down the field, weaving between opponents to score her seventh goal of the evening, her father watched proudly from the sidelines.
“She’s in heaven here,” Cliff McKee, of Plum, said of his 19-year-old daughter. “It’s her highlight of the week.”
In The Outreach Program for Soccer in Penn Hills, everyone scores a goal, and everyone is happy to come.
TOPSoccer is a program that gives children and teenagers with special needs an opportunity to participate in athletics through soccer. The program is made up of players ages 4-19 and volunteers of all ages who help them learn drills and assist during games.
Last week, TOPSoccer’s game at a Dible Elementary School field concluded the spring season. An award ceremony honored the participating athletes.
The hourlong program Tuesday evenings will start again in September.
“When you have a special-needs child, it’s hard to find good programs for them,” McKee said. “This program is great.”
It isn’t just players who learn and grow during the games.
Gigi Snodgrass, organizer of the program and an aide for special needs students at Linton Middle School, said volunteers and parents learn from interaction with others.
“We had so much fun,” said Snodgrass, of Penn Hills. “There was so much joy.”
Snodgrass and her son Ryan started the program two years ago. It is sponsored by the Penn Hills Soccer Association.
Ryan Snodgrass, 20, received an athletic scholarship to play soccer at Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina during his senior year of high school. He wanted to do something that would benefit the community.
TOPSoccer was such a success the first year that his mother continued the program after he went to college. A junior, Ryan Snodgrass comes to games and works with the players on vacation breaks from school.
“Some people have been searching for years (for a program like this),” Gigi Snodgrass said. “If we stopped, these kids would be empty.”
TOPSoccer’s spring enrollment was 25 players and 20 volunteers, called “buddies.” Some volunteers are adults; others are from high school, middle school and youth groups, including many who have volunteered since the program started.
“People ask where I get volunteers,” said Gigi Snodgrass. “I ask everyone.”
Nearly all parents of players attend the games, she said.
“It gives them an opportunity to talk to other adults that they might never have met otherwise.”
When the final game ended, she gave each student a booklet of photographs and a certificate. “Every one of you is a winner,” she said.