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A win-win-win

By BRENDAN O'BRIEN

 

Bryce Tock participates in the TOPSoccer program for children with disabilities. His dad, Kevin, says Bryce has "the time of his life every Saturday playing soccer in his wheelchair."


For an hour each Saturday, Kevin Tock proudly watches his 5-year-old son, Bryce, smile and laugh as he plays soccer, though Tock has a different perspective on the game than most parents.

"You are not there for the winning and the losing," Tock says. "Youíre not there to cheer them on when they make a great play. You are cheering on a moment when your kid smiles, when your kid laughs."

Bryce is a paraplegic who plays soccer through the TOPSoccer program, a national organization for children 4 to 19 years old who have mental or physical disabilities. The Waukesha TOPSoccer program, which began eight years ago, is the largest in the state with about 50 athletes and 60 volunteers.

Each volunteer becomes a buddy for one of the athletes. Some older athletes also become buddies to mentor and play with the younger participants. "I feel like I am making a difference," says Maddie Burgdorff, a senior at Arrowhead High School, who regularly volunteers with the program. "A lot of the kids cannot respond, but they will smile and you will know that you are doing something for them."

Nick Ray, also a senior at Arrowhead, began volunteering two years ago and now coordinates transportation of about 15 students who volunteer each Saturday morning during the season, which starts up again in the fall. "This has opened my eyes," says Ray, who has played soccer since he was 4 years old. "In the grocery store, if I saw someone with special needs, I might have looked away. Now I wave or say hello. Itís made me more accepting and more comfortable as well. Itís been a lot of fun."

Participants and parents alike appreciate the value of the mentoring program. "Itís a real neat relationship," says Holly Olsen, whose son, Sam, is in TOPSoccer. "They have a friend who is cool because they are in high school."

"To be honest, it changes you just as it does your kid," Tock says.