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Soccer4All provides a soccer experience for kids with special needs

Soccer4All is the Dover Soccer Association league for children with a physical and/or mental disability. The program is open to any child age 5-18.


"Our three main goals are to get active, make friends and have fun," said Lisa Stilgenbauer, the director of Soccer4All in Dover.
The nonprofit organization is dedicated to creating a soccer experience for kids with special needs. The soccer is decidedly not competitive.
"I tell people if they are looking for competitive sports, there are the Special Olympics," Stilgenbauer said.
It's all about one hour per week where kids can be out on the field (or even just near the field) and having fun in a new and different way.
Stilgenbauer, who runs the program with her husband, started the Dover group four years ago. Her sister and brother-in-law originally founded the program in Hudson 10 years ago. They were looking for a very low-key approach to soccer so their daughter with autism could participate.
At that time Stilgenbauer was coaching competitive soccer. "I was getting kind of tired of parents, yet I still wanted to stay involved in soccer, so I went to Hudson for two seasons to mentor," she said.
Moved by what she saw happening on the field and for families, she decided to introduce Soccer4All to Dover.
Stilgenbauer brought the idea to the director of the Dover Soccer Association. "I needed someone to back me," she said.
The response was enthusiastic. Stilgenbauer said the assistance she receives is invaluable and includes everything from sharing equipment to using association fields.
Soccer4All has two seasons every year, and sign-ups are now open for spring. There are no residency restrictions for participants.
The Saturday practices last for one hour. The first half-hour is soccer practice, and during the second half they a play game.
"We don't play against anyone," Stilgenbauer said.
Participants are grouped according to ability and age with a coach for each group. All coaches volunteer their time and are required to have background checks. They are part of the Dover Soccer Association and have completed a required concussion training.
The league is open to children between the age of 5 and 18 with a developmental delay or disability.
Every participant has the option to be paired with a volunteer soccer buddy. The buddy spends the hour with the child offering support and connection.
"They are with that child the whole time they are on the field, and that way mom and dad can sit on the sidelines and cheer," Stilgenbauer said.
Parents also are able to spend time with other parents, and many friendships are formed.
Some of the kids and their buddies have been together the entire four years that Soccer4All has been available in the area. Stilgenbauer has seen the formation of lasting friendships between some of these families.
"One thing we don't have that competitive soccer has is yelling," Stilgenbauer said. "There is no yelling."
She described one parent who brought her child to the soccer camp. "There was this lady on the sidelines crying," Stilgenbauer said.
The woman explained she was crying happy tears. When her daughter had played on a typical soccer team, every time the coach yelled, her daughter would become upset. At Soccer4All, her daughter was on the field smiling.
Registration is open for the spring season of Soccer4All. Sessions are held every Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon at Deeds Field, 125 Williams Drive NW, Dover, from April 21 through May 26. The registration fee is $25. Register online at www.dsasoccer4all.com.
An important note regarding the Soccer4All program: At least one parent or legal guardian must be present at all times for every session without exception.
Stilgenbauer is happy to hear from those interested in being buddies and can always use donations. "I only charge $25," she said. "They get a soccer ball, a jersey, a trophy, and we do some cookouts."
Anyone interested in more information may email Stilgenbauer at lmstilgenbauer@yahoo.com?Subject=Soccer4All%20Sponsor">lmstilgenbauer@yahoo.com.
"We're hoping to expand the program," Stilgenbauer said. "I would love to see it grow."

Published: April 13, 2018
New Article ID: 2018180419993