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In Clearwater soccer league, kids with disabilities win big

Daniel Sandof, 7, goaltends while Katie Lynch, 7, takes a shot during TOPS soccer league play Saturday. “The job is to make sure all the kids have a good time,” one of the league’s organizers said.


Daniel Sandof, 7, goaltends while Katie Lynch, 7, takes a shot during TOPS soccer league play Saturday. “The job is to make sure all the kids have a good time,” one of the league’s organizers said.

CLEARWATER — Tyler Hardin dribbled the ball past several defenders before booting it into the back of the net.

When the soccer game came to an end on Saturday's gorgeous afternoon, Tyler, 12, walked toward his father with his hands in the air and yelled: "Daddy, daddy, we won!"

Meanwhile, on a smaller soccer field at the Countryside Sports Complex, Katie Lynch and Daniel Sandorf, both 7, took turns taking kicks on goal and playing goalie.

The youngsters' smiles and enthusiasm masked that fact they, along with 48 other children who gather to play soccer on Saturday afternoons, are living with life-altering disabilities.

"This is huge," said Rick Hardin, 44, Tyler's father, of Tarpon Springs. "For my son, it's a feeling that he's participating in sports and is achieving the same level of accomplishment as our other two children."

The Clearwater Soccer Club hosted the Outreach Program for Soccer (TOPS), a 4-year-old community soccer league for young athletes with disabilities. The nine-week season ended Saturday.

For 45 minutes, the children, age 5 and up, are divided into five different teams. The older children played against a club soccer team. Saturday, it was the Clearwater Chargers boys youth 16-and-under team and the Clearwater Soccer Club's girls youth 14-and-under squad.

"The job is to make sure all the kids have a good time," said Melissa Tremblay, one of the league's organizers. "We make it competitive for them but at the same time, we make it fun and rewarding."

There is a similar program in northeast St. Petersburg.

It cost about $3,000 to run TOPS. Because of sponsorships, it is free to participants. In addition to soccer, there's a pizza party each week and at season's end, each child gets an award. This year it was a medal at the end of a red, white and blue ribbon.

Margaret Tison, 41, brought her daughter Rachel, 15, to the Saturday soccer league. Rachel has Down's syndrome.

"It's helpful because everything is done at their level," Tison said. "And they get to mingle with other kids with disabilities and those who don't have disabilities. It helps both sides to see that people are people.''

Javon Bostic, 16, a member of the Clearwater Chargers, played in one of Saturday's games.

"It's really fun," said the East Lake High student. "You see the looks on their faces and you see them enjoying themselves; it really gives you a good feeling."

Karina White, 14, of the Clearwater Soccer Club agreed.

"It's rewarding to see all their smiles," said the Tarpon Springs Middle student. "It makes you feel like you've done something good for kids."

Tyler Hardin has microcephaly, a condition in which a child has a small head and brain.

Katie Lynch suffers from Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a neurological disorder that causes damage to the peripheral nerves. Daniel Sandorf battles arthrogryposis, a rare congenital disorder of the joints.

Parents can talk in great detail about their children's diagnoses. But on Saturdays at the soccer league, they don't have to do that. It is not an issue.

At the league, it is about their children having fun in an organized sport. Several parents had video cameras and recorded their children running from one end of the field to the other wearing burgundy jerseys and bright smiles.

"It's like we are a family," said Sandra Hardin, 39, Tyler's mother. "Here, we all can sit and talk and relate to one another. We are a family."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or


Field days

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In Clearwater soccer league, kids with disabilities win big 02/09/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 9, 2009 10:48pm]
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