SHIPPENSBURG — A soccer league for children and adults with physical or mental disabilities, the Very Important Players program, kicks off this fall sponsored by the Shippensburg chapter of the American Youth Soccer Organization.
Registration is open to anyone ages 4 and up.
“There really aren’t any other VIP leagues in the area that we are aware of, and definitely not in the south-central region of Pennsylvania,” said Jerry Carbo, who coordinates the new program with his wife, Betty.
“It’s for everybody, even people in wheelchairs and older adults who have never had an opportunity to play because of their disabilities,” said Kristi Eckert, Shippensburg registrar for the youth soccer organization. “Anyone who has an IEP (individualized education plan) or a disability will be able to play soccer in a very safe environment,” Eckert said.
The VIP soccer concept is popular in the West, mostly in California, but the program is unique to this area.
Teams are separated according to age, size and ability. Amputees are encouraged to participate, as are players who have autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy or conditions that impair mobility, and people who are blind, visually impaired, or mentally or emotionally challenged.
Buddies are needed for the program. Eckert said it’s a perfect opportunity for high school and college students, especially education majors, who may need volunteer hours for graduation requirements.
Carbo’s daughter, Adrienne, a social work major at Shippensburg University, is working with her sorority to recruit buddies, and several AYSO board members have also volunteered. But Carbo hopes middle school students are also interested in being buddies.
“Based on the national program, it works best when the buddies are close in age to the players,” he said.
“Our goal is to have at least one buddy for each player who signs up. A buddy’s commitment can be as short as one hour plus a couple hours of training, or enough hours to get in full (educational) requirements.”
Carbo said the VIP league will be a year-round program with indoor and outdoor play. The fall season will run from mid-October to mid-November. The winter season will begin in late January and run through February, and the spring season will start at the end of March and run through the beginning of May. Carbo said a few events will be held during the summer, although there will be no regularly scheduled games.
“This is a great thing,” said Eckert. “We have a lot of children in this area with disabilities who don’t get an opportunity to play sports. This will give them that opportunity for physical activity, teamwork and social interaction that sometimes they miss out on.”
Carbo, a professor at Shippensburg University, said he and his wife were involved with a similar program in Clarksburg, W.Va., prior to moving to Shippensburg.
“We were part of a group that did a Buddy Walk,” he said. “It was geared toward kids with Down syndrome. That gave us the idea for the VIP program here.”
The Carbos are also looking forward to watching their 6-year-old granddaughter, Carmella, play VIP soccer.
“We’re real excited,” he said. “Our granddaughter has Down syndrome, and it’s the perfect time for her to get out there and play an organized sport.”
Registration for players and buddies, as well as referees and coaches, will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 29, at the Southampton Township Cumberland County park on Airport Road, and from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 31, at the Southampton Township Cumberland County office on the corner of Airport and Hershey roads.
Players can also register at any time throughout the year by contacting Jerry and Betty Carbo at email@example.com.
Registration fee is currently $55 for the year, which includes a uniform, but Carbo’s goal is to offer free registration in the future.