AROUND NJ

TOPSoccer Youth Program Allows Athletes with Disabilities to Participate

The West Orange United FC TOPSoccer members. Photo Courtesy of Perry Bashkoff.

By Christine Valdez
Web Production Assistant

Playing sports is a big part of many children’s lives. In West Orange, a youth soccer club has found a way to give kids with disabilities an opportunity to participate.

TOPSoccer is a youth outreach program for young athletes with physical and mental disabilities. The program, which began in West Orange through Mountain Top League in March, is currently run by Lou Mignone. According to Mignone, the program provides a safe and fun environment for the athletes.

Mignone got the idea to start the West Orange club after getting invited to a TOPSoccer event.

“I was invited in January to attend a U.S. Youth Soccer TOPSoccer coach course in Philadelphia,” said Mignone. “The course I attended contained a practical component that involved the participation of children from the Philadelphia area. I knew at that point after being part of the fun, learning and happiness on the part of the players, parents and coaches that we must bring to West Orange this wonderful program.”

Lou Mignone (right) high fives a player of the West Orange United FC TOPSoccer program. Photo courtesy of Perry Bashkoff.

Although TOPSoccer may have just begun in West Orange this year, the program has existed for several years as part of U.S. Youth Soccer. With various clubs nationwide, the program aims to enable young athletes to become valued and successful members of the U.S. Youth Soccer family. According to the program’s website, its mission is “to foster the physical, mental and emotional growth and development of America’s youth through the sport of soccer at all levels of age and competition.”

With various chapters and clubs across the country, athletes are not placed by age but by ability. The program aims to make athletes feel that they have made a contribution to make their experience meaningful.

When the program was just starting in West Orange, Mignone said that the initial reaction around the community was positive. He says that the program would not have been possible without the support of everyone involved in the West Orange United FC and Mountain Top League.

“Without their support, this project could not have succeeded so quickly,” Mignone said.

There are a number of clubs that offer the program nationwide. Mignone says that there a few soccer clubs affiliated with U.S. Youth Soccer in New Jersey that do offer TOPSoccer. He also hopes to encourage other clubs to begin to offer the TOPSoccer program.

Currently in West Orange the club has about 17 players participating.

For each session, each participant is paired with a respective buddy or coach. According to Mignone, each participant is engaged and having fun while developing soccer skills along the way. It all takes places in an environment that is set to the learning pace and ability of each participant.

Players of the West Orange United FC go through a team tunnel. Photo courtesy of Perry Bashkoff.

Mignone said the athletes gain more experience in soccer through the program, but it offers more than that for both participants and volunteers.

“I have enjoyed every minute of my involvement with TOPSoccer,” Mignone said. “The happiness that this program generates among the players, parents and buddies cannot be expressed in words alone.”

He also said that he has seen improvements in the players and that families have described the emotions that several of their children have shown toward the program.

“Parents continually describe to us how their children look forward to putting on their uniforms and coming to play at TOPSoccer,” said Mignone. “The enthusiasm of our family of buddy coaches continues to grow with each smile, high-five and achievement by the players. These aspects of the program are examples of its tremendous success.”

Moving forward, Mignone says that he plans to continue with the program and see it grow in terms of numbers and players. He would also like to see the number of buddies grow and hopes to inspire other soccer clubs to welcome TOPSoccer.