This post is one of my monthly articles for Alive East Bay Magazine when I was a volunteer contributor. The focus of my articles was to promote special needs awareness, inclusion and to provide resources.

I hope you enjoy November’s edition. <3

     Breaking through barriers is never easy. There will be individuals who will support your endeavors and have your back, and there will be others who belittle your goals and dreams. Then there are those on the same path as you. You join the flock and decide not to give up after all. You keep going for that goal.

     The AYSO VIP League alleviated my worries about finding a sport for children within the special needs community. A soccer organization that offers competitive sports for the mainstream and a non-competitive sport for those diagnosed with special needs (VIP), my husband and I signed up our ten-year-old daughter. We were not disappointed.

     The season recently ended and, after having the enjoyment of watching my daughter’s confidence flourish on the field, I was so impressed. It was so positive and touching to watch how the VIP coaches and mainstream coaches collaborated in each game. Assigned as “buddies,” the team of mainstream kids patiently interacted with the VIP team. I watched inclusion and a balance of competitiveness which the opposing team adjusted, based on the skill level of my daughter’s team. It was an hour of easygoing enjoyment where no mama or papa bear showed their fangs on the sidelines. The players played, the parents watched, and the coaches coached.

     It was because of the coaches that these moments were able to occur with passion, focus, and consistency—all of it done on a volunteer basis. The coaches, past and present, exemplified action that came from their hearts. As I recently sat with them enjoying a spaghetti dinner at the VIP Soccerfest costume party, I was amazed at how long they all have been dedicated to providing an inclusive sport for a special group of young individuals.

     The fearless leader of my daughter’s team, “Goalbusters,” Peter Gaughan (aka Coach Pete) has volunteered with the AYSO VIP league for 21 years with some of those years as Director for the league. His spunky “let’s do this!” attitude was apparent to me the moment I met him. To find out how long he has been giving his time and energy only added to my respect for him. His coaching assistant, Cecilia Romero-Chavez, became involved after moving from Richmond to Pleasant Hill and began looking for sports activities for her son. Through her “Googling,” she became part of AYSO VIP in 2006 and is currently the Division Coordinator. They are a duo that follows through with emails, practices, and games. Also in attendance at the league’s Halloween celebration was Steve Forbes, who began volunteering in 1997. Even though he no longer volunteers as a coach, there he was attending this event for these special kids out of pure admiration for the division and all it stands for—inclusion. I truly felt surrounded by sincere human beings.

     If you are a parent of a child diagnosed with a special need and are in doubt about which way to turn or how to find a compatible environment, just know that you are not alone in feeling overwhelmed or in despair. Uplifting, helpful, and inspiring resources are available in many different forms. Achieving milestones is possible for people of all abilities. There is a flock ready to include you to help you bust through any barriers and reach the goal. I know this to be true because my family and I started out with so much fear and despair. Now, ten years later, we get to witness our daughter “bust” out of any restrictive assumptions that society prematurely places, and she is achieving more goals than we ever could have imagined. Every child is born with VIP status but AYSO helped remind my daughter’s teammates that they are all “Goalbusters.”

     Thank you AYSO VIP league coaches and volunteers. I hope my gratitude in this article is the fuel that keeps reminding all of you that your devoted actions do make a difference. It is your efforts that remind me that there is always a flock that I can call upon. As Coach Pete would say at the end of every game, “Who you gonna call?”, I happily answer along with my daughter “Goalbusters!”

For more information about the AYSO VIP League, please visit https://ayso.org/play/vip/

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