The VIP Soccer and Basketball Program in Southern California enables disabled young adults to be a part of an organized team, something they were not provided ever before.
These individuals who make up a team consist of a wide range, aging from 5 to 30. Most of these kids were never able to join a “normal” team, as they have autism, cerebral palsy, or other physical and mental deficits.
As Program Director, Karen Henderson notes, “there is no actual position on the field… Our games are VERY friendly and fun, with no pressure.” Henderson’s son, Kyle, has been a part of the league since he was 11 and he is now 23. He has cerebral palsy and is unable to use proper form when kicking the ball, but she says that’s not the point.
“When they’re on the field, their disabilities don’t matter,” states Henderson. VIP gives them a sense of belonging, as every individual gets to play and score a goal or basket. They also gain confidence and learn teamwork all while enjoying the game.
Volunteers, mostly other young adults, run the program. The VIP soccer program is through AYSO but not every AYSO Region has a VIP League. It can be set up anywhere.
During the basketball season, every player scores a basket a game and they always end in ties. There are also no penalties for breaking the rules like going out of bounds, double dribbling, etc.
Michael Gerety’s daughter has been in the program for nine years. He says, “It’s been very gratifying to see the program continue to grow thanks to the love and commitment of League founder & coach Steve Siskin, the support of our incredibly dedicated team mom, Karen Henderson, and staff at Balboa Park Sports Complex.”
Steve Siskin has been the coach of both the VIP soccer and VIP basketball teams since its beginning, but he does not have any children with disabilities. All the kids respond well and connect with him.
The parents of the players get as much joy out of the games as their children do. They are happy to see their kids thrive and be a part of something since their entire lives are filled with obstacles. This is a time where they can put everything aside and enjoy themselves while accomplishing something great.
Henderson says, “From our 9:00 a.m. arrival at the fields for the VIP practices and Saturday games, to the final cleanup of the park in the late afternoon, the smiles and positive energy of everyone involved [is] completely infectious.”