Special local soccer league a hit

By: Alex Szwarc | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published October 13, 2021

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MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Each Monday night for one hour, a special group of soccer players gather in Macomb Township.

The league, Macomb Buddy Soccer, is for children with special needs, ranging from ages 6 to 15. They play on a field near the Macomb Township Recreation Center.

Due to sloppy field conditions, the group played inside the Recreation Center Oct. 4. That night, 15 children and six buddies took part in the game.

This is the league’s first year. The league runs for six weeks, beginning in mid-September. Players are partnered with volunteers, many of whom are Macomb Lutheran North High School students.

“A lot of (the players) have autism, some have physical and cognitive disabilities,” league coordinator Shannon Pelfrey said. “It’s non-competitive.”

Pelfrey’s son is autistic, and she said there’s not many outlets for his energy level, adding that traditional sports teams can be too competitive.

“I created the buddy system in hopes it would keep the kids interested, and they really love their buddy,” Pelfrey said.

Andrew Mandziara, a junior at Lutheran North, is a volunteer. He partners with Pelfrey’s son.

“I enjoy seeing the joy this gives the kids,” he said. “I like seeing them be happy.”

Pelfrey said the league received soccer equipment from Dick’s Sporting Goods.

“Some of the volunteers are the kids’ therapists, which is kind of cool,” she said. “They’re helping them on the field.”

Overall, Pelfrey said the league serves as a good chance for kids to get some exercise, kick the ball around and score goals.

“It’s been really fun, and the kids and parents are loving it,” she said. “There’s really no outlet for these kids.”

Parents, such as Sarah Alderman, are thrilled to have their children be part of the league. Her two boys, Evan and Grayson, participate. Evan has autism, and Grayson is undiagnosed currently.

Alderman, of Clinton Township, said the league is very valuable for her family.

“There was nothing like this in our community that was close for us, so after a long day of school or therapy, we didn’t want to drive an hour to do something,” she said. “This gives them the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of the game, but to also do it in their own way, where they are accepted.”

Alderman called the buddies a huge aspect of the league, keeping the kids focused and on task.

Frank Pizzolato’s son, Anthony, is a buddy.       

“It’s great seeing this happen,” Frank Pizzolato said. “My son has played soccer since he was 4, and for him to teach other kids to play the game that he loves, it’s great to see this happen.”

He added that his son is thankful to volunteer and is interested in volunteering more in the spring.

Pelfrey hopes the buddy system can expand into other sports, like flag football or basketball.  

The league’s final outing is Oct. 18.    

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