WellesleyWeston Magazine


Launched in 2005, WellesleyWeston Magazine is a quarterly publication tailored to Wellesley and Weston residents and edited to enrich the experience of living in two of Massachusetts' most desirable communities.

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Page 155 of 211

was some professional expertise in an organized, predictable program." Hayward partnered with Ken Johnson, a physical education teacher in the Wellesley Middle School who teaches adaptive physical education in addition to other courses. He has a particular reason to champion the program: "I have a child with special needs who participates," he says. "I am passionate about this program." Together they crafted a meticulous program that serves the athletes well. For example, Hayward brings five of her graduate students to practices, which helps further "professionalize" the program. During the first weeks, Hayward and Johnson realized that the key to success was a highly-structured program that kept fun at the forefront of every activity. Additionally, it became clear that the single most critical part of any practice was the intense connection that younger athletes made with their "big kid helpers." Hence, the hallmark of TOPSoccer is the "Buddy" system that matches a high school or college volunteer with the same athlete at each session. It is a unique feature that garners unanimous praise from both parents and participants. Dani Torres has family members who have been involved at every level of the program. Her brother, Alcy, was one of the founding mem- bers of TOPSoccer and their father, also Alcy, is a pediatric neurologist who attends every practice as a precautionary measure. Dani, a sopho- more at Wellesley High School, is now the volunteer coordinator who also manages field procurement and parent communication for TOPSoccer. But she maintains that by far her most important job is matching volunteers with their athletes. "The pairing is so rewarding," she says. "You grow a relationship with your buddy; they come specifi- cally to see you." She recounts stories where a volunteer might not be able to attend a practice due to illness and the distraught reaction of the child. "They can completely disengage. The buddies and their ath- letes really bond," she says. Paulie Mizzi reports that his buddy "…gives me piggy back rides. It's really fun." His parents agree that the buddies are the backbone of the program. "They keep it positive. There are lots of high fives, and the student volunteers are tremendous," says John. Adler echoes this senti- ment: "I am in awe of these kids coming out to help every Sunday." Dani Torres happily reports that often there are more volunteers than athletes, but "I never turn away a willing volunteer," she says. Many hands are needed as athletes go through their skill stations, but the work is left to the volunteers while parents happily disengage. "It's a great time to connect," says Adler of the time on the sidelines. "Sometimes if you have a child with special needs, you can feel like the 154 W e l l e s l e y W e s t o n M a g a z i n e | s p r i n g 2 0 1 6 good works "a great time to connect" P H O T O S B Y A R I E L R O O S

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