Soccer Sundays: Weekly soccer games for disabled members of the community

Every Sunday disabled members of the community, their parents and a handful of volunteers meet at Hillsborough Park.

Dylan+Samuel+%28orange+jersey%29+shoots+a+ball+at+the+goal%2C+supported+by+volunteer+Paige+Beater.

Jerome Pike

Dylan Samuel (orange jersey) shoots a ball at the goal, supported by volunteer Paige Beater.

By Justin Ha, Granite Bay High School

“Pass to Dylan! Pass to Dylan!” “Go! Go! Go!” “Shoot the ball Grant!”   

This Sunday, Soccer Sundays ended its second season. Soccer Sundays is a weekly get-together at Hillsborough Park for people with disabilities in Granite Bay to play soccer and socialize. Every Sunday morning, an audience of parents cheer on a friendly game of soccer, assisted by a half a dozen volunteers.

The program was created in the midst of the pandemic, a response to the isolation and missing physical activity COVID-19 has brought. Soccer Sundays was a natural response to a solvable problem.

“My son, Dylan, inspired me (to create Soccer Sundays). He is in the adult transition program at Granite Bay High School now. He used to play Top Soccer but it ages out at about 18 and Dylan is 20 now,” creator of Soccer Sundays, Sue Samuel said. “All his friends were too old as well, so we decided to create our own program so the adults could keep seeing their friends, stay healthy and also make new social connections through buddies and new friends.”

Like Dylan and his friends, many other people with disabilities  enjoy getting physical exercise. In fact, there are at least 10 players every Sunday, with quite a few regulars coming weekly.

“Growing Soccer Sundays was easy.  Our community of parents has known each other a long time, and we are always reaching out to new parents with young adults with disabilities,” Samuel said. “We have a Soccer Sundays Facebook group for parents and my niece Paige Beater, a senior at GBHS, has an Instagram page for the buddies called ‘Soccer Sundays!’.”

Taylor Tofanelli, a 19 year old player with fetal alcoholism syndrome, is one of these regulars. Tofanelli goes to a college program in Auburn, but on the weekends is a soccer star.

“I have a lot of fun playing and doing…sports and stuff,” Tofanelli said. “I enjoy seeing my friends and my buddies. Overall, Soccer Sundays are the best.”

I have a lot of fun playing and doing…sports and stuff. I enjoy seeing my friends and my buddies. Overall, Soccer Sundays are the best.”

— Taylor Tofanelli

The volunteer “buddies” are crucial to running a smooth soccer game. Beater is one of the main volunteers and functions as a referee. Soccer Sundays not only benefit the athletes, but the buddies as well.

“I love spending time and messing around with the athletes,” Beater said. “(Soccer Sundays) gives the players an opportunity to build relationships with each other and the volunteers.”

Just as important as the physical benefits of Soccer Sundays are the social benefits. Forming personal relationships are invaluable for disabled individuals.

“Our young adults absolutely love the buddies from GBHS and look forward to seeing them every Sunday just as much, or maybe more, than they look forward to playing soccer,” Samuel said. “The buddies facilitate soccer but also important social skills.”

Soccer Sundays allow members of the community with disabilities to practice socializing and forming relationships in a safe, controlled environment.   

Bryan Hyland is a player with autism at Soccer Sundays. Due to his autism, Hyland has severe anxiety, but Soccer Sundays have been a safe space for him to engage in normally difficult situations.

“Soccer Sundays help Bryan see appropriate dialogue and conversation skills and make friendships,” Hyland’s mother, Rosemary Hyland said. “He loves all the high school helpers. They are so patient with him.”

Not only are these aspects of Soccer Sundays invaluable for the players and their buddies, but parents get something out of Soccer Sundays as well.

“Soccer Sundays allow parents to network and support each other as having a child or adult with a disability can be very hard and lonely and it’s so nice knowing that someone else is there for you and just gets it,” Samuel said.

Stephanie Tyler is the mother of Grant Tyler, a player with autism and regular at Soccer Sundays. The program’s usefulness cannot be understated for her and her son.

“It is so important for kids with special needs to first have athletics they can participate in and to have an opportunity to have social interactions with typical peers. It really is so valuable,” Tyler said.

“GOAL!”

This story was originally published on GraniteBayToday.org on October 31, 2021.