Evan Szepytowski, 12, of Macomb Township, scores a goal at a Buddy Soccer session as players and buddies watch on.

Evan Szepytowski, 12, of Macomb Township, scores a goal at a Buddy Soccer session as players and buddies watch on.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Fun is the goal at Buddy Soccer

By: Dean Vaglia | Macomb Chronicle | Published August 10, 2022

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MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Getting kids into sports can be hard, and it can be even harder when developmental or behavioral disabilities come into play.

Shannon Pelfrey was one such parent to face this dilemma. Her son didn’t fit within regular soccer leagues due to behavioral issues, and she could not find a suitable league near her home. While she had heard of a league specializing in special needs sports in Clarkston, “there was nothing like it in Macomb County.”

After calling the Macomb Township Parks and Recreation Department and speaking with Recreation Programmer Lacey Ward, the two established Buddy Soccer.

Centered around kids 6-15 with special needs, Buddy Soccer pairs kids with a buddy for an hour of soccer-based activity.

“We keep it very simple,” said Pelfrey, who owns Gymboree Play & Music, alongside running Buddy Soccer. “We don’t overload them with directions. Sometimes they just want to kick the ball to their buddy, and that’s totally fine. They get breaks whenever they need one. Sometimes they want to play, sometimes they don’t, which is all completely acceptable.”

Buddies tend to be high school kids, and Pelfrey notes many of them have come from Lutheran North High School. While Pelfrey believes many of them have soccer experience, anyone can be a buddy.

“I think a lot of them are on the Lutheran High North girl’s and boy’s soccer teams,” Pelfrey said.

What sets Buddy Soccer apart from other leagues is its focus on activity rather than competition.

“A lot of competitive leagues for kids, they want to see wins and they want to see the kids play the right way,” Pelfrey said. “There is a lot of pressure on those kids, and our kids can’t handle that, so this works really well.”

Buddy Soccer is one of several programs for special needs community members, which includes a gym class and experimental art class for people older than 18.

“This fall, we look forward to continuing the growth of our under-18 offerings,” Ward said via email. “With Shannon’s help, we will be offering a parent interactive Gymboree play class for boys and girls, ages 3-6 with cognitive disabilities, with or without physical impairments. These classes will include music and movement and offer a great opportunity for special bonding time with their caretakers. In addition to the new Gymboree class, I am also working with Suburban Ice to offer an introduction to skate class for ages 6-15. We will be including an Adaptive Skate 1-day Workshop in the REACH catalog.”

As for Buddy Soccer, Pelfrey says it will continue but might take place at a different time.

“We started in May, and it was only supposed to go until the end of June,” Pelfrey said. “But we had rainouts, so now unfortunately we’re playing in 95-degree heat. … So next season, I think I’m going to make it so if we need to do a make-up, it is that same week.”

Those looking to sign up for Buddy Soccer and other adaptive recreation programs can register online at macombtwp.org/adaptivereceation.