For many years, Valley Center has been the scene of some extremely viable and significant soccer programs involving those of the high school and the youth-oriented Hurricanes.
And now, a first-of-its-kind as well as another very important and substantive program is making both its presence and impact felt in VC.
Originating with a 10-week session that kicked off last December 16 at the Valley Center Middle School, the TOPSoccer program has begun filling a much needed role that can’t help but move and inspire anyone who becomes aware of its presence.
Simply stated, TOPSoccer is a community-based training and team placement program for primarily young athletes with any type of physical or mental disability or impairment. The main intent and purpose of the program is to take challenged individuals from the sidelines and get them participating in the game. It’s all about creating a mindset of inclusion where no one is forgotten or left behind.
The participants take part in training sessions that feature among other things, shooting and dribbling drills. And games can involve anywhere from 5 to 11 players a side, dependent on their respective ability.
One of the many interesting aspects of the program is that the athletes are grouped solely by skill level and not by age so that everyone is placed in a competitive environment geared to ensure a more level playing field and a most positive experience for all the participants.
A major component of TOPSoccer is the unique approach of matching up
its special need athletes with a buddy for more hands-on and personal instruction. Currently, 25 coaches/mentors/buddies are involved with the program, with a total of eight coming from the boys and girls varsity teams from VC High.
As this is being written, the local TOPSoccer program lists 13 among its ranks with an age variance ranging from 5 to 25. But with the word beginning to spread about this extremely worthwhile program and with a most encouraging response from the local community, the potential for growth is both real and promising.
It is essential to reiterate that TOPSoccer is all about getting as many people involved as possible so while most of the participants would skew towards a younger demographic, all ages are welcomed and encouraged to come out. Moreover, in a very novel way of reaching out even further, the program allows siblings and relatives of the players, who because of the family dynamic might not have had the chance to previously partake in sports, to participate as well.
Though there’s been invaluable aid and assistance given to the program by school district officials and multiple sponsors, it would be hard not to argue that the driving forces behind TOPSoccer’s genesis and development have been director Christine Van Slyke and her 14-year-old daughter Briar, who holds down the important responsibility of buddy coordinator. Christine’s passion and excitement about the program and its potential to dramatically improve the quality of life for all those involved is apparent to anyone who listens to her rhapsodize about its many virtues.
Among one of the most rewarding benefits of the program has been opportunity for the players to have interacted, trained and played with members of the WFC San Diego SeaLions, a second-tier women’s soccer team. Another memorable thrill for the participants took place late last month when they traveled up to the StubHub Center in Carson and witnessed in person the Seattle Sounders’ 3-0 win over the host LA Galaxy in MLS action.
Though it won’t be until this December that the weekly sessions at the VC Middle School begin anew, please don’t infer that the program is in any way slowing down or taking a sabbatical. On the contrary! There will be get-togethers either Saturdays or Sundays at various venues throughout the County for the next number of months.
As for the future of TOPSoccer, it seems to have a very high ceiling indeed according to the elder Van Slyke. There is even talk of a County-wide league being based here in Valley Center sometime very soon.
TOPSoccer succeeds because it works on so many different levels. It empowers (young) athletes who might otherwise not be availed of a cherished opportunity. It can bring a community together with its commitment to inclusion and brotherhood. It can touch the heart of all those involved because of the purity of its mission. And above all else, it deserves to thrive because it simply is the right thing to do.
For more information about this burgeoning program, please go to www.valleycentertopsoccer.com.