For the past few years, Kingsway Girls Soccer Coach John Kodluk, along with his assistants Heather Brown, Jen Stark and his daughter Ashley Kodluk, has built his program into one of the best in South Jersey. They have won the last two division titles. They have been ranked in the top 10 in South Jersey. Coach Kodluk even won his 100th game this past season.
For all of the success on the field, however, this program has chosen to use its collective talents to assist young children ages 4 to 18 years old with physical and mental disabilities such as autism, Down’s Syndrome, and visual impairment. Working with US Youth Soccer’s TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer) along with the Swedesboro-Woolwich Soccer Association, the Kingsway players look to help these children make gains physically, mentally, and emotionally.
While these lessons are framed around the game of soccer, they really are based on emphasizing efficacy, confidence, and enjoyment in these children.
The high school girls act as “Buddies” for the program participants, guiding them through every step of the session. Fundamental skills are built like dribbling skills and footwork. More importantly, the high school girls want the participants to have fun and learn how to experience thriving in a team setting in a confident way.
In essence, this program is seen as a team effort between the children, Buddies, coaches, and parents.
“When we started last year, we regularly had kids who, when doing a stepping drill within a ladder placed on the ground, would take minutes to tip-toe through the apparatus even while holding a Buddy’s hand,” said Kodluk. “By the end, the children usually are flying through with the confidence of a vet. Their progress is amazing in a short amount of time.”
Kingsway became involved with this program after being approached by Lou Maroney, who has shepherded this program within the Swedesboro-Woolwich Soccer Association. Art Roney, another person in this movement, also has been vital in the success of the program, acting as a coach.
Roney’s investment in this program runs deep, as his son, AJ, has reaped the benefits of the program himself as a participant.
Kodluk feels that his players get as much, if not more, out of volunteering for this project as the participants. “To see the joy on the faces of the participants after accomplishing a task really is special,” said Kodluk. “A similar expression appears on the faces of my high school girls, too.”
“At the conclusion of my team’s end-of-season banquet a few months ago, we surprised our high school girls by having the program participants sneak up on them, while they were watching a highlight presentation of the program. My girls had no idea these children would be there. To see the excitement and connection between the children and the Buddies was so clear and powerful. The impact of the TOPSoccer program was never clearer than at that moment.”
The latest edition of this program will be run on the following dates at Kingsway High School from 11 a.m. to noon: May 3, 10, 17, and 24 as well as June 7 and 14.
Actually, this will be the fourth time that Kingsway has been involved with the TOPSoccer program. It also ran in the fall of 2012, the spring of 2013, and the fall of 2013. Participants in the program receive a T-shirt, ball, and trophy.