2017-09-28 / Front Page

Region Expands Play for Adaptive Athletes

‘Shooting Stars’ Latest Adaptive Sports Program
By James Merolla

The Shooting Stars Soccer League plays through October. There are no fees to participate and no obstacles. The Shooting Stars Soccer League plays through October. There are no fees to participate and no obstacles. Dana Riveire believes that nothing should stop a child from kicking a ball into a soccer goal, except a goaltender. Not autism, lack of coordination, blindness, Down Syndrome or Attention- Deficit Disorder.

Riveire, a Newport mother whose four-year-old autistic son, Henry, loves kicking a pocked plastic ball, recently formed the Newport Shooting Stars, a soccer team in Newport County focused on young athletes with disabilities.

The new league allows children to play soccer under the direction of an adaptive coach and a specially assigned buddy.

No prior soccer experience is required. The focus is fun, regardless of ability.

Since May, Riveire has assembled more components for her fledgling league than a LEGO World Cup kit. It began with a pamphlet, but commenced with a grant.

Challenger Baseball Program in Portsmouth in 2006. The special needs league is open to boys and girls 5 and up in Aquidneck Island towns, regardless of disability. Challenger Baseball Program in Portsmouth in 2006. The special needs league is open to boys and girls 5 and up in Aquidneck Island towns, regardless of disability. “My son is 4. He has autism. He loves soccer. People told me, ‘He won’t stay on the field and he won’t focus.’ I was kind of sad,” she said. “I saw a flier for a special needs soccer program [in another state]. I discovered the league and a week later, I saw the [requirements of the] Prince Grant and it sounded like it was completely written for us.”

Newport Hospital’s Prince Grant was established for new programs and underserved children.

“We applied for a grant and we got it,” she said.

To start the league, Riveire contacted Jim Kelly, head coach for Rogers High girls’ soccer and the chairman of Soccer Rhode Island, which must approve any new league in the state. Soccer Rhode Island is under the auspices of U.S. Youth Soccer. There is an umbrella affiliation in Middletown, Portsmouth and Tiverton, but none in Newport.

“This will start a branch of Soccer Rhode Island in Newport,” said Riveire, who is also establishing a branch of TOP Soccer, the special needs program of U.S. Youth Soccer.

She said that Kelly was excited to get younger children involved in the sport. Together, they received approval, advertising and found a coach, Kaitlin Soltis, a senior at Salve Regina, who has experience in special education.

They were then directed to the special education departments in every school system, PTO groups, other school groups, leagues and family associations. Blurbs in the paper followed, along with more fliers.

Funding is in place for 40 children. It’s the one goal Riveire hasn’t yet reached.

The Shooting Stars program, which started on Sept. 10, will run each Sunday at 1 p.m. through the end of October at Braga Park in Newport. There is no fee to participate.

“Kids with special needs in Newport County could and should come over to the league we are opening in Newport,” Riveire said. “Each kid will get a buddy. We currently have older players from Rogers High lined up to be buddies.

“But each kid is different. It’s really for everybody at all different levels. They don’t have to have played before… that’s the beauty of this program. I am very excited that this is actually going to happen, knowing that something that started as a little pet project is becoming a reality.”

Y’ Also Offering Programs for Adaptive Athletes

Riveire’s foray into a special needs soccer league is the latest addition to area programs that serve people who would benefit from adaptive activities. But the local Y has operated such programs for years.

Megan Leonard, adapted physical activity director of the Newport County YMCA, supervises nearly 30 Adapted Physical Activity (APA) programs, which are designed to give children and adults with all types of disabilities the opportunity to participate in a variety of recreational and therapeutic activities.

The programs range from Vacation Camp to Summer Camp, with eight weekly programs that include gymnastics, walking groups, and dance, to name a few. There are also six youth programs and a Best Buddies program that features 10 sports, along with Special Olympics, which includes track and field, bocce, bowling, and more.

“We started offering these programs eight or so years ago when we started our Special Olympic program,” Leonard said. “A year or so after that, we started the Adaptive Physical Activity program, and about a year ago we started Best Buddies.”

Best Buddies, according to its website, is an international nonprofit that looks to create opportunities for one-to-one friendships, employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

According to APA marketing director Jennifer Whelihan, the programs serve 150 weekly participants, and donations allow many of the programs to be offered for free.

The programs are set up to foster individual growth and develop a healthy spirit, mind and body, said Whelihan, adding that all programs are centered around the YMCA’s core values of youth development, healthy living and social responsibility, while focusing on developing both physical and social skills that will last a lifetime.

“It takes a very unique person to staff the program,” Leonard said. “A lot of patience goes into it. You need to have a special passion for [working with] special needs.”

Leonard said the YMCA emphasizes each person's abilities and individuality by offering programs that encourage independence, while providing positive recreational and educational experiences.

“We assess the different needs to the individual,” she said. “We can take existing YMCA programs and adapt them. We can help you select programs that are right for you and your family.”

Fall programs began on Sept. 5, the Adapted After School Club on Sept. 6, and Best Buddies on Sept. 7. There will be a Special Olympics Soccer Tournament on Oct. 1.

Crack of the Bat

Further to the north, Bob Dyl and Chris Patsos (of the Newport Gulls) formed the District 2 Challenger Baseball Program in Portsmouth in 2006. The special needs league is open to boys and girls 5 and up in Aquidneck Island towns, regardless of disability.

“We try to make everyone feel like a big leaguer,” Patsos said.

There are no registration costs, although donations of any amount are appreciated, according to Patsos, and players receive shirts and caps, along with unbridled encouragement.

The league holds games every Sunday from April 15 through June 15. In addition, officials take players on memorable baseball-related field trips. In 2009 and 2014, players took batting practice at Fenway Park and had lunch in the dugout with Wally The Green Monster before watching a Red Sox game.

In 2012, players visited Williamsport, Pennsylvania, home of the Little League World Series, and participated in the Challenger Little League World Series against a team from North Carolina. “The game was televised on ESPN and the kids had an absolute ball that weekend,” Patsos said.

Each June since 2010, the league holds a “Challenger Jamboree,” inviting 20 teams and their families from across New England to Portsmouth for a fun-filled day of activities that include pony rides, bounce house, dunk tank, free food and games with a variety of mascots, including Wally and Tessie from the Red Sox, Blades from the Bruins, Pat Patriot, Gully and Gully, Jr. They also travel to Attleboro and Swansea, Massachusetts, annually to compete in other jamboree games.

“It is a wonderful program that is open to kids of all ages and abilities and gives everyone an opportunity to participate at their own pace,” Patsos said. “It is amazing the strides that these kids make year to year, and it is wonderful to see.”

For more information on the YMCA programs, contact Megan Leonard at meganl@newportymca.org. Contact Bob Dyl at rdyljr@cox.net for details about the Challenger League.

For questions about the Newport Shooting Stars or for registration information, contact Dana Riveire at 843-813-5053 or danaforti@yahoo.com, or Jim Kelly at 401-529-4187 or jkgool@aol.com.

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