Section 10 VIP Tournament
VIP Abilities On The AYSO Soccer Field Highlight Fourth Annual Section 10 Tournament
By: Pam Vetter, November 9, 2008
Soccer trophies for everyone!
Watching hundreds of American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) Very Important Players (VIP) on the soccer field was a rewarding experience for everyone who attended the fourth annual tournament in North Hills.
The AYSO VIP Program provides a quality soccer experience for children and adults whose physical or mental disabilities make it difficult to successfully participate on mainstream teams. VIP teams may include players who are blind or visually impaired, amputees, mentally or emotionally challenged, autistic, Down syndrome or cerebral palsy.
One of the many standout players at the tournament was 14-year-old Giselle Fernandez of AYSO Region 33. Giselle, who is blind, loves playing soccer in her VIP league at Balboa Park.
"I like everything about soccer. It's fun. I love my soccer. Many times in the first quarter I play goalkeeper," Giselle said smiling. "And I can kick the ball far. At school in the gym, I showed my PE teacher how good I can kick the ball!"
Giselle's mother, Sandra Fernandez, was cheering on her daughter from the sidelines.
"She's played for five years on the Balboa VIP team. This is an excellent experience because she feels like an older child on the team, equal to the other kids. She told me she feels free when she plays soccer like the other older kids do and it's excellent for her," Sandra said. "Every year she waits for September for soccer to start because it's very good for her. She believes more in herself. She was born blind, but she's active. She can see light and shadows, but she can use the cane and she needs help on the field. She loves soccer. The buddies help a lot with her. They understand her as they play with her."
Steve Poretzky, AYSO Section 10 VIP Director, says Giselle is not alone in finding success through the VIP program.
"We have one full team at Balboa Park which is from a grammar school in Hollywood that specializes in visually impaired players. We use balls with bells or highly fluorescent balls for children who have partial sight. They all have buddies that walk around holding heir hands. They're the most invigorating, empowering games to watch. We adapt to whatever the needs are so kids can play," Poretzky explained. "This tournament is the highlight of my year as my hope is for this program to grow. Getting the word out is the most important thing that we can do. There are still more AYSO regions that don't have VIP programs than do. We have a lot of work to do. There are plenty of players out there who would benefit from the program. It's just a matter of getting the volunteers and getting them motivated, trained and ready to go. It takes one volunteer coach and six players. Sometimes it's a matter of getting the parents out here and believing that their children will benefit from the program."
Margie Close, AYSO National Special Programs Administrator, encourages the addition of more VIP programs around the country.
"You need people who are care about putting the program into their community. We've talked about it many times. It isn't money and it isn't field space. It's having at least one passionate person who wants to provide the program for people who need it. There's no question that the need is everywhere. It's documented in our schools that's it's important to offer a sporting experience for kids who are overlooked. The VIP program has been around since 1992 but it's still not in every community where it can be used. We have approximately 1,000 regions in the United States that have active VIP programs. It's estimated there are 6,000 – 7,000 children and adults participating in VIP programs. We need to do better and we're going to start a big marketing campaign in the AYSO organization itself to say this is doable and it's not hard. We don't care about the numbers, just that it's there and it's being offered," Close stressed. "It's still very well hidden in some communities and people don't even know it exists. In the soccer realm we're different in that we offer a season, instead of a single event that players prepare for. The VIP program runs alongside the mainstream teams and until parents see it, they don't believe it. We just want to provide the opportunity."
Los Angeles Councilman Dennis Zine was moved by what he saw on the soccer fields in North Hills.
"My neighbor, Jill Joncich, started the VIP team out of Woodland Hills Region 71 and this is the first time I've been to a VIP tournament," Zine said as he looked around at the parents and players. "It's amazing to see how it brings people together. This is hugely important to the community. Bringing kids out to the field to participate in the experience of soccer and giving them the same opportunity as everyone else is so important. These kids are obviously having a great time out here. They get their uniform and association to AYSO and it builds character. All of those positive aspects are part of this program. To see it to this extent, this is the kind of program we support. In my district, we have Valley Village, Therapeutic Living Center, and a number of programs and shelters that help people with disabilities. In the last 15 years, the VIP is an important program that has emerged. It's a population that is oftentimes forgotten in society, but it is a population that needs to be served. So, to see the kids and the different aspects of the program, everyone is having a great time. Kids want to have fun. This is one phenomenal program. To the people who put this huge VIP network together, congratulations to the parents, volunteers and players. As an elected official, whatever we can do to foster goodwill, we're proud to support the VIP program. This is a day of celebration – it's a day where the bottom line is that someone cares about someone else. Whether it's the youth, the buddy system, the volunteers, coaches, parents, players, all aspects of this are a win-win situation. There are no losers here and I'm happy to be here to see it in person."
Jill Joncich, AYSO Region 71 VIP Coordinator, was proud of her players and their families for participating.
"This is our team's second tournament and the parents and kids are thrilled. The kids love playing against the other VIP teams and it's a beautiful day. The feeling here is amazing, having all these teams out here for the same reason. It gives a whole new meaning to the team sport of soccer. This is very different than our season. We have one VIP team and we play our mainstream teams. But, the whole idea of playing in this tournament is playing against teams you don't know and it kicks up the competition a little bit and our kids are ready for it. The kids are ready for the competitiveness of tournament play," Joncich said. "For the future, I need the program to grow. Especially coming out here and seeing the older kids on other VIP teams, it would definitely be nice to have two teams in Region 71 be able to play each other but also be able to see the different levels of abilities. We've got some kids who are growing up. For one of our players, 9-year-old Fiona, this is her third year of VIP and we'd be able to move her on to a more competitive nature. It would be nice to have two levels of teams. So, we'll spread the word and consider the possibilities. You can see when you're out here, it's an amazing feeling."
Fiona's mother, Tori Kirkham, has really seen her daughter grow through the VIP program.
"It's really been a season of growth for Fiona. She has matured into a much more confident soccer player. The tournaments provide a completely different venue. She's used to her teammates, everybody kind of knows what to do, and they get into a routine. This tournament takes everybody out of their routine and this is a huge opportunity and not just for our team, but for all of the teams because they get to see other kids just like them. They don't realize that beyond their little community there are also other teams like this. So in the tournament, they see the community pulling together and playing together. It's important," Kirkham said. "Fiona scores every game but this tournament is a little more challenging because there are some fast kids playing against her, and I'm hoping she's gained enough confidence to meet this particular challenge. It's a great venue for her to safely push the limits. I hope she'll be back to play next year. She loves it. As her confidence grows, it's a glow that lasts for days."
Heather West says that her daughter, Megan, has had a great time during the VIP season in Woodland Hills Region 71.
"She's loved it. She looks forward to every Saturday and playing with her friends. She talks about her friends in soccer all year long. It's a group of kids that she identifies with and feels a part of their lives. She calls them her friends. This is all she talked about all day yesterday was the tournament. We like to promote this to everybody we know and hope that other people get their kids involved, too," West recommended. "The buddy program is especially great and I think it's a good thing that the older kids get involved and help the younger kids. It's a great opportunity for everybody, especially for the little ones who want to be a part of a sport that they can see the other ones doing. It makes them feel comfortable and gives them some self-esteem and helps them be a part of what's going on around them. It's a good thing. I'm glad to see it and I hope it continues. She'll definitely be back next year."
Theodora Rockwood has been playing VIP soccer for a few years now.
"The season has been wonderful," Theodora's father, Bill Rockwood, said. "Theodora has been having a great time and she's just very excited coming out to the soccer field every weekend. Every time she scores a goal, she gets excited, 'Did you see me? Did you see me score my goal, daddy?' Last year was our first tournament and we had a great time with the other families. I would encourage families who are considering the program to bring your kids out here. The kids have a great time and you'll enjoy watching the kids play soccer."
Mark Neudorff, CEO of Soccer One, was a proud sponsor of the VIP Tournament.
"We're back again and we appreciate the dedication of the families that come out here. We see how these kids love being participants in soccer and it gets to your heart. This is our second year of sponsoring the event, but we've always been involved as volunteers," Neudorff explained. "We think it's important that if people are supporting you and you're blessed with having a business that you should give something back to the community. This is a great way to give something back. We did soccer balls and the trophies. Everybody gets a trophy. It's a pleasure to work with Mike Marks, Steve Poretzky and Paula Berriz."
In fact, Paula Berriz, AYSO National Vice President, loves to attend the annual VIP tournaments.
"This is our premiere event throughout the organization and this section does a tremendous job. I love to be here. This is the heart and soul of what we do for youth, what we do in America, and it culminates everything. It's an all-volunteer organization and I look at the hearts of people who are the organizers, coaches and parents, and how they try to help the children be successful. All of the children are unique and they all bring something different to the game. This is something we should be doing for all kids," Berriz reinforced. "The motto in AYSO is 'Everyone plays.' My children went to see the VIP games when I was a regional commissioner and they helped. So, when my kids were in high school, they saw kids who were in the VIP program and they'd say 'Hi Kenny! Hi Suzie!' It was so rewarding for both of them to play VIP kids. I saw how the dynamic worked and the respect that developed between them. I saw how it helped their relationships in middle school and high school. We became really good partners with the schools finding out what kind of warm ups worked for the kids. It was terrific."
Mike Marks, Section 10 Director, wishes that every Saturday would share the warmth of VIP tournament play.
"This is great! The kids are having fun, the parents are happy to be out here, it's just the way it should be. We try to give them the same opportunity that all of the other kids have. Just the fact that they can get out here and see what the experience is like. These tournaments may be a step above what you see at other tournaments because there are so many volunteers here, the goodie bags are filled a little more, so it's a very special event. The success of this tournament is the one sign that the program is growing every year. I've got to thank Steve Poretzky, because he does an awesome job of getting the word out, working with special need groups that are out there, and then with the regions, offering a program where there's no cost for the families because they it's sometimes tough. It's been wonderful to see how much it's changed and how much it's grown each year. This is our fourth year for the VIP Tournament. The first one was in North Hills. The second one was in Lancaster. The third year was in Camarillo. And, now the fourth year we're back in the North Valley. It's been a nice place to come back to."
For Reza Shahmirzadi, former Regional Commissioner of Region 71, the VIP Tournament is an event he truly appreciates.
"What I enjoy most is seeing the spark in players' eyes that shows they're enjoying it. I just saw one of our players, Fiona, score a goal. Seeing how happy she was, that's the world to me…" Shahmirzadi added, "This tournament is awesome!"
For more information on Woodland Hills Region 71 VIP program visit www.region71.org.
Reprinted Courtesy of American Chronicle