From June 3-6 Fort Worth Youth Soccer Association offered a TOPSoccer Summer Camp that featured soccer themed activities that covered gross motor skills, fine motor activities and social skills for players aged 5-19 who have autism, intellectual disabilities or other special needs.
For FWYSA Executive director Janet Norman as well as FWYSA Referee Coordinator Diane Swanson, the camp represented an opportunity to bridge the fall and spring seasons of their rapidly growing TOPSoccer program.
“In the fall when we started the program, we had seven kids, and we could tell that parents were really excited about the program,” Norman said. “In the spring we ended up with 23 kids and parents were asking if we there was anything going on in the summer. So Diane got with some of her fellow teachers that wanted to come in and put on a summer camp.”
Swanson, who is an Occupational Therapist for Fort Worth ISD, holds a USSF E License in addition to over 30 years of experience, echoed the parents’ desire to put something on in the summer after the recent attendance in the spring season.
“We had such a good turnout for the spring season, and then we had to educate and explain to parents that their child could go to a soccer camp, which wasn’t their usual mindset,” Swanson said. “We were able to get kids from other school districts who heard about the program.”
The camp included everything from soccer-related crafts, soccer skills games to a full soccer game at the end of every day, which featured all the volunteers and the players. The camp also included a therapy dog, which immediately was a popular addition.
“It was an amazing feeling. Every night Diane was over the moon talking about what happened that day during the camp,” Norman said. “And for the parents, you can see the tears in their eyes because they are so excited for their kids to have the opportunity to go out and play.”
Both Norman and Swanson were quick to point out the flurry of volunteer requests they received, as well as the diversity of volunteers that wanted to help out ranging from college students, to siblings of players to teachers from around the area.
“People from all over the community wanted to help out,” Swanson said. “We had a lawyer, a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, P.E. teachers and others. It was great seeing everyone playing in the game together at the end of every night.”
Swanson, who has long volunteered for the Special Olympics and has been a fixture within FWYSA, identified the program as perfect timing for her to merge two of her passions into one program. Norman agrees so much to the point that the name of the FWYSA TOPSoccer program was changed to Diane’s Kids.
“Yeah they surprised me. I had no clue it was coming. I still call it TOPSoccer,” Swanson said with a laugh. “I think it is important at soccer still gets top billing.”
Next on the docket for FWYSA is the upcoming fall season, where increased attendance is expected and welcomed. The players meet once a week for eight sessions, while following a similar format to the camp where there are soccer-specific sessions followed by a game at the end for players, volunteers and anyone else who wants to join. The group received donations from Xara and Game On in form of uniforms and other supplies.
“We are going to go full 100% and keep going,” Norman said. “It is really exciting to watch it grow from the seven players we had this past fall season to what it is now and what is still to come.”