Hamilton-Wenham Generals Girls Soccer '07

Heather Mancini, Staff Photographer

H-W senior soccer players help coach special needs youngsters

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Monday, November, 26 By Jean DePlacido

Nora Einhorn, Emily Helming, Juliana Martinez and Niles Batchelder have a few things in common. They're all seniors in high school, attend Hamilton-Wenham Regional, and are all pretty strong soccer players.

They also love to teach the game to others, too.

All four volunteer their time to coach special needs youngsters on the Junior Eagles TOPSoccer team.

Their friend, Charlotte Karrlsson-Willis, is the coordinator for the younger group, while her father Paul handles the older kids in the program. This program is for boys and girls with Downs Syndrome, autism or cerebral palsy.

"I used to go down to the field every Saturday (near the H-W Recreation Center) to help my Dad out," said Karrlsson-Willis, whose father got the program started. "I noticed some of the younger kids were having trouble keeping up, and I took them to a different area of the field to practice. That's how the Junior Eagles team got started.

The coaches, who were hand-picked by Karrlsson-Willis, get to the field a half-hour before practice starts each Saturday and go over the skill sets they'll teach. (Many of these same skill sets are used in Special Olympics). Some weeks that includes dribbling; other weeks, it involves stopping on a line.

"I really didn't know what it was all about, but my friend Charlotte was very involved. She gets us organized and comes up with drills to run. Sometimes we break up into smaller groups so we can work 1-on-1. I enjoy it so much that I want to continue doing some kind of volunteer work like this in college."

The younger kids range in age from 4 to 6 years old, while the older group is made up of 7 to 14-year-olds. There is a fall and spring season, with a tournament at the end of the year.

"We do both skills and short-sided games (5 on 5)," said Karrlsson-Willis, who has been involved with the program for the past two years. "The Little Eagles did drill competition and got medals for completing drills in a certain amount of time. They were really excited about it.

"From one season to the next and from practice to practice, they change so much. We have some kids who won't do anything without their parents beside them, but the next year they're out on the field passing the ball to other kids. I'll go there in a bad mood, but quickly get over it when I work with them. It is really amazing how quickly they pick things up and improve."

Einhorn hopes some of her younger high school teammates will step up to volunteer when she and the other seniors go away to college.

"We're all graduating next June and really need more volunteers to take over," said Einhorn, who plans to major in psychology in college, specializing in developmental disorders. "It's truly an amazing experience.

"The best thing is when these kids know they're doing something right. I have one terrific girl with cerebral palsy who dribbles the ball extremely well, but has trouble shooting. One day she shot the ball into the pin we had set up so hard that she knocked it over. She was so happy and gave high-fives to all the coaches. That was an incredible feeling."

Einhorn said the coaches begin practices with a light jog, then show the youngsters how to properly stretch out.

"When practice starts, the first thing we work on is passing, then move on to dribble drills with obstacle cones to go around," she said. "We try to keep them active and not let them get bored, but we are not there to babysit | we want to teach them how to play the game so they can compete in Special Olympics when they get a little older."

There are 20 kids on the Eagles, including anywhere from 8-11 in the younger group. The program has grown each year, and the parents are very involved in helping out.

"I love it," said Helming, an All-star Cape Ann League goalie. "I started last spring, and it's so much fun.

"Some of these kids never did any structured activity before, while others tried a regular soccer program that was too much for them. We show them how to do things and work right along beside them visually demonstrating. It's amazing to see how much their skills improve, and the parents really enjoy watching their kids having fun."

The Hamilton-Wenham athletes are giving something to the youngsters they coach | but they are also getting a lot back in return.

"Helping out is something I look forward to every week," said Helming. "Just seeing how pleased they are when they learn a new skill is reward enough. Whatever else is going on in their lives, they really seem to enjoy soccer and having fun in the fresh air."

1 Story Comments

0         Michael Sperling

Good Story.

Report! #1 11/26/2007 11:19 AM