KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A soccer team in Knoxville is giving kids with disabilities a chance to play ball.
“These VIP players, they’re just a normal child. They’re energetic, they’re lively, they know what going on,” said director Paul Anastasio.
The VIP soccer program provides kids with mental and physical disabilities the opportunity to just be a kid.
“It allows them to come here in a safe, fun environment where they’re in control, the parents get to sit to the side and enjoy watching their children play,” said Anastasio. “All of us have a blast when we’re here.”
Each VIP, or very important player, is paired with a buddy. They help coach the player, but mainly, they’re just to just be a friend.
“All of us hang out with our buddies outside of school and outside of the practicing,” said Mackenzie Smith, a buddy. “Everyone keeps coming back for it. Everyone loves it.”
It’s important to have that one-on-one attention.
“They’re someone that’s their safe person, that they can go to if they want to take a break and they just have fun with them. The buddies are the core to this entire process. If we don’t have the buddies, there’s no way the VIP program could work,” said Anastasio.
“He (his buddy) showed me how to give me some moves and showed me how to play soccer,” said VIP Chris.
Whether they’re playing with ball or cones, there’s always a smile on their face.
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Although they don’t keep score and the rules of soccer aren’t strictly enforced, there are still plenty of goals.
“They get to experience what it’s like to score a goal and they get to see how everybody gets excited for them and even passing and kicking the ball around. It’s a sport that you can just have fun with anywhere and not have any boundaries to hold them back on,” said Anastasio.
No boundaries means more room for fun.
“There’s things in life that aren’t as important as just seeing pure enjoyment out of these children.”