Friday, January 19, 2018
News Roundup

Hernando soccer club offers TOPSoccer program for children with mental and physical challenges

SPRING HILL

When Marisa Santella's son Nico was diagnosed with autism at age 3, she thought he would never play sports.

"We are sports people," Santella said with a smile.

Nico's two older brothers have all played sports, she explained. But with Nico, it always has been difficult to bring him to organized activities.

"He gets overstimulated and can get upset," his mother said.

Finally, Santella got tired of seeing Nico, now 11, sit on the sidelines. So, along with the board of the First Hernando Youth Soccer Club, she decided to do something about it.

For the first time, the organization is offering TOPSoccer, a program for children with mental and physical challenges. During the free nine-week season, which began earlier this spring, each player is paired with a buddy, and they get to get out on the field and play soccer. Santella helped organize the program.

She expected 10 children to participate, but now 40 kids, and about 50 buddies, have enrolled. Each week, more parents are calling and showing up.

"This is just awesome, for the parents, kids and volunteers," said Erin Begeny, a board member of the First Hernando Youth Soccer Club.

The soccer organization offers recreational and competitive soccer for children ages 4 and up, as well as adult leagues. This year, the group is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

The first hour of TOPSoccer is dedicated to drills, skills and stretching. After that, participants are broken up into teams to scrimmage. Kids are sorted by age and ability.

"We don't use the word 'disability' here; the kids hear that word too much," said Santella.

"It's an alphabet soup of diagnoses — PDD, autism spectrum, CP, sensory integration disorder — but today they are just kids," said Rhonda Coleman, mom to 6-year-old Jimmy. "Jimmy is a runner. They call it 'elopement,' and I call it a flight risk," said Coleman. "But he's safe out on the field with his buddy, and I can just watch and enjoy the day."

Cat Fonseco, mother of 6-year-old twins Emily and Nathan, agrees. "This is such a healthy outlet for their energy," said Fonseco, who is also a physical education teacher at Deltona Elementary School.

"I have been involved in sports my whole life and really wanted this for them, but wasn't sure it was a possibility," Fonseco said.

Emily has Asperger's syndrome and anxiety disorder; Nathan has multiple disabilities.

On a recent Saturday, Emily scored a goal. Everyone on the sidelines screamed and cheered.

"This is great for the kids, but a great benefit for the buddies as well," said Phil Bennett, director of coaching for the soccer club.

Each player is paired with a volunteer buddy, most of whom are teenagers who play soccer during the fall season.

Bennett's son Harry, 15, is a buddy to an 8-year-old boy named Zachary. The two are "joined at the hip," said Zack's dad, John Luallen.

Harry holds Zack's hand and helps him learn to dribble the ball through cones. When he misses a kick, Harry gives a disappointed Zack a hug.

"This is something ... you can't come and watch and not get a little moved," said Begeny.

TOPSoccer is an acronym for The Outreach Program for Soccer and is part of the U.S. Youth Soccer program. Started in the late 1990s, it is designed to help "all children enjoy the benefits and fun of soccer," explained Rob Martella, director of operations for the national organization, which oversees and supports local youth sports league. There are TOPSoccer programs in nearly every state, Martella said.

Santella is hoping the Hernando program will continue to grow. She wants to hold a fall season and maybe a daylong event where the kids get together, and the parents can connect, too.

"These children get an opportunity to be a part of something — something they would ordinarily be excluded from," she said. "You see lots and lots of smiles out there."

   
Comments
Rapper Kodak Black arrested in Florida on grand theft, other charges

Rapper Kodak Black arrested in Florida on grand theft, other charges

FORT LAUDERDALE — Rapper Kodak Black has been ordered held without bail in Florida on seven felony charges that include child neglect and drug possession.The Broward Sheriff’s Office arrested the 20-year-old rapper, whose real name is Dieuson Octave,...
Updated: 19 minutes ago
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Two New Port Richey men accused of stealing $11,000 in cellphone merchandise

Two New Port Richey men accused of stealing $11,000 in cellphone merchandise

NEW PORT RICHEY — Two New Port Richey men face charges after Pasco County deputies say they stole about $11,000 worth of cell phones and cell phone equipment at a Metro PCS store on State Road 54.Robert Jackson and Ronald Hartshorn were arrested Wedn...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bus rapid transit: First look at Tampa Bay’s next, best hope

Bus rapid transit: First look at Tampa Bay’s next, best hope

ST. PETERSBURG — The public got its first glimpse Friday morning of a new transit system that could one day connect Wesley Chapel to Tampa to St. Petersburg.It’s called bus rapid transit, or BRT. Representatives from Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Five things Tampa Bay needs to know about bus rapid transit

Five things Tampa Bay needs to know about bus rapid transit

ST. PETERSBURG — Transportation planners on Friday unveiled a new transit vision for Tampa Bay leaders on Friday morning: Bus rapid transit.Also known as BRT, it has arisen as the leading option in an ongoing study to find the best regional transit p...
Updated: 1 hour ago

‘Mike Hammer - Encore for Murder’ serves up hard-boiled 1950s fare with a healthy side of wit

CLEARWATER — From the moment the title character takes center stage, Mike Hammer — Encore for Murder is sold. Rarely does one actor own an entire production the way Gary Sandy owns this world premiere, and it’s a pleasure at watch, in large measure t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tampa man gets five life sentences for killing three with assault rifle

Tampa man gets five life sentences for killing three with assault rifle

TAMPA — Early one morning in December 2014, Angel Luis Perez, high on cocaine, burst through the back door of an east Tampa home and used an AK-47 assault rifle to slaughter two people in their bed.A 3-year-old boy witnessed the murders. Perez grabbe...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Top 5 at noon: First 97 days of a foster mom and the little girl in her care; first look at Tampa Bay’s next, best hope for a mass transit system; and more

Top 5 at noon: First 97 days of a foster mom and the little girl in her care; first look at Tampa Bay’s next, best hope for a mass transit system; and more

Here are the latest headlines and updates on tampabay.com: THE FIRST 97 DAYS OF A FOSTER MOM AND THE LITTLE GIRL IN HER CARE Shannon Colavecchio, a former Tampa Bay Times reporter now living in Tallahassee, decided in the summer of 2016 to begin th...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Hillsborough, Pasco schools warn parents about flu activity, dangers

Hillsborough, Pasco schools warn parents about flu activity, dangers

The Florida Department of Health is reporting a sharp increase in flu activity in the last several weeks, prompting area schools to send out letter warning parents about the virus. At least two districts, however, say that flu activity in their schoo...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Forecast: After a chilly morning, normal weather slowly returning to Tampa Bay

Forecast: After a chilly morning, normal weather slowly returning to Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay can finally bid farewell to this week’s stretch of brutally cold conditions.10News WTSPFeels-like temperatures around the Tampa Bay area It’s a slow return to normal, as some residents still woke up to frost and sub-freezing temperatures, ...
Updated: 2 hours ago