Sunday, October 29, 2000

Handicapped youngsters play in soccer tournament

By Lew Moores
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COLERAIN TWP. — Michael Standifer scored two goals within minutes of each other, but he had paid for it earlier with a split lip.

        His mother, Cynthia Standifer, stood on the sidelines of the soccer field at Westside Soccer Complex off Harrison Road.

        “I got blood,” Michael said between quarters, his lower lip red with a thin gash. The ball had hit him flush in the face.

        “Does it hurt?” he was asked.

        “Yeah,” said Michael.

        “You still going to play?”

        “Yeah,” said Michael, loudly.

        Michael Standifer, who is 17, was one of nearly 200 children with mental and physical disabilities who participated in the third annual Chiquita TOP Soccer Tournament. They ranged in age from 5 to 20. Many have Down syndrome. Many are autistic. Some are visually impaired, or wear leg braces. Some use walkers.

        The older ones, like Michael, play without help. The younger ones take the field with an adult by their side, guiding them around the field and to the ball.

        “He's a Trojan out on the field, but he's really scared of blood,” said Ms. Standifer, of Anderson Township. “But this is great. It's a chance of get some self-esteem, to learn teamwork. And they get to be a star for a minute.”

        Doug Orcutt organized the Cincinnati TOP (The Outreach Program) Soccer program three years ago; it has grown from just 52 players in 1998 to about 150 the following year and 180 this year.

        They were joined by a TOP soccer league from Dayton on Saturday, 21 teams crowding seven fields, where they played under gray skies and in a chilling wind.

Deserving team
               “There's many kids out there that are on the sidelines watching their brothers and sisters play and they can't play,” said Mr. Orcutt, whose daughter, Katelyn, 12, plays on a TOP team. “This is a program

        for them. I coached three of my other children and I felt that Katelyn deserves to be on a team. There was nothing for her.”

        Rita Crosby, of Loveland, watched as her son Joshua, 16, played. Of course she's a soccer mom, she said. “C'mon, Josh!” she screamed as her son charged after the ball.

        Becky Roberts, of Loveland, sat by her son, James Pettys, 15, and waited for his game to begin. “This is the first year for James. Josh invited him to play. It's the first social thing James has been involved with. People used to hide their kids away. Now, we're doing something very normal.”

        James Pettys agreed. “I like to kick it,” he said with enthusiasm.

        Derrek Ross is 16. His parents, Harry and Marji Ross of Anderson Township, watched as Derrek defended the goal.

        “The beauty of this is that it's such an accomplishment for these kids,” said Ms. Ross. “They don't know that they're different from anyone else. That's why it's so important to have these sports for them.”

        Chris Person, 20, of Amelia, was quick to point out he's had his share of goals. He also likes to swim.

        “It's a great experience for him,” said his mother, Sandy Person. “They're serious, but it's also about friendships.”

No attitude
               Jim Myres coaches the Newtown Kickers. He roamed the sidelines, egging his players on. “Keep the ball out of the goal — use your imagination,” he yelled across the field. “Michael, I couldn't ask for better ... Josh, get back by the goal.”

        Mr. Myres has eight kids of his own, and has been coaching soccer for 25 years, the last three with TOP soccer.

        “Ever been to a regular soccer game?” he asked. “Some parents are trying to live their lives through their kids. Not here. There's no attitude with these kids. These kids are just so neat. This is the most fun I've ever had in soccer. I'm not kidding.”


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