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Teaching Soccer and Making Friends

WC's Men's Team Works with Developmentally Disabled Each Spring

May 15, 2013

Men's soccer players Erik Hammar (left) and Ben McMahon (right) work on soccer skills with youth from Nike Center, including, from the left, Jenny Rocheleau, Josh Nakata and Justin Grant.

Men's soccer players Erik Hammar (left) and Ben McMahon (right) work on soccer skills with youth from Nike Center, including, from the left, Jenny Rocheleau, Josh Nakata and Justin Grant.

Wilmington College’s soccer season ended in November and will not resume until August, yet Charlie Gilhart Field was abuzz with activity for five Friday evenings this spring when the men’s team shared its passion for the world’s most popular sport with youth and adults from the Nike Center.

The activity renewed the annual goodwill gathering of Wilmington College student-athletes with developmentally challenged residents that has been occurring each spring since 2006.

Head coach Bud Lewis described the interaction as “a real blessing” for the men’s soccer program.”

“It’s an opportunity for our players to give of their knowledge of soccer and enjoy the enthusiasm and sweetness of these kids and adults from the Nike Center,” he said, stressing that the “relationships and connective-ness” developed far exceeds any soccer skills gained during the training exercises and scrimmages.

“One of the most important things my players learn is to just be present for the kids and not worry about whether they kick the ball properly or go away from here with a lot more soccer knowledge,” Lewis said. “It’s such great fun and our players go away feeling that they’ve made this world a better place.”

WC freshman Jesse Buhrman enjoyed his inaugural experience teaching soccer and establishing friendships with those to whom he was assigned as a mentor, including P.J., Brendan and Timmy.

“I like working with special needs kids and I’m a believer in helping kids learn and grow, plus it’s an opportunity to share our passion for soccer,” he said. “I loved it, being out there and putting a smile on their faces.

“After the first night we worked together, Brendan came looking for me the next Friday,” he recalled. “I heard him calling my name when he arrived — that was cool.”

Kyle Lewis is superintendent of the Clinton County Board of Developmental Disabilities, which oversees the Nike Center and its 17-acre campus on State Route 730. The Nike Center “provides a lifetime of services” — the most paramount of which are health and safety issues — for persons with developmental disabilities. An associated entity, Orion Inc., secures and coordinates work opportunities for the center’s clients.

Lewis also sees the human factor as far outweighing simply gaining knowledge of a game.

“It’s not only being outside learning and playing soccer, but developing these friendships and relationships,” Lewis said. “We’re getting these folks in a community setting and the College students learn about what we’re doing.”

Lewis noted that Bud Lewis’ involvement with the Nike Center exceeds the team’s annual spring activity, as several years ago the longtime coach joined the Board of Developmental Disabilities.

“Bud believes in our mission and everything we do,” Lewis said. “It’s awesome to have such support from our community.”