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Adaptive sports programs cater to children with special needs
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Adaptive soccer and T-ball program
When: 10-11:15 a.m. Saturdays beginning March 14
How much: $75 through Feb. 26
More info, to register: www.i9sports.com, 678-472-2142

Susan Shaw wants what any mother would want — for her child to have every opportunity to do what he wants in life.

“We have been working around the clock, I would say, to really ensure that he reaches his fullest potential,” Shaw said. Her 6-year-old son was diagnosed with autism when he was 2.

“I really want to immerse him with a lot of typical activities,” she said. “Research shows that children with autism do well when they’re immersed with their typical peers. They kind of adapt, if you will.”

So when her son said he wanted to play soccer, Shaw signed him up with a program through i9 Sports in Gwinnett County. It was not a program specifically for children with disabilities, but both Shaw and the i9 program director, Craig Magram, believed her son could adapt to the surroundings.

“I think, quickly, we could see that our child needed a little bit of extra help on the field,” Shaw said. “It was just apparent that he was kind of losing focus and just kind of not paying attention.

“It was really devastating,” she added. “You go through these moments where you think your child’s doing great and ... some things happen that really kind of shows that disability, and it’s just discouraging.”

While that particular incident was discouraging, it planted a seed within Shaw’s mind of pulling together a program that would be all-inclusive for children with a variety of abilities.

She called Magram, who was “very gracious” and offered to refund her money. But a little voice inside nudged her to ask if he would sponsor an adaptive sports program in Hall County.

“We put together a concept of doing a six-week program, which is three weeks of soccer and three weeks of T-ball for children with special needs,” Magram said. “Our organization is going to help with the registration process and getting the jerseys and background checks and equipment, and kind of putting it all together.”

The six-week program includes three weeks each of soccer and T-ball for children with disabilities from ages 5 to 10. The only requirement is that all participants must be mobile in some way.

“You have to be able to either run or walk,” Magram said. “We’ve had children who have inquired (about the program) with cerebral palsy and that’s fine, too, because they may have braces that will help them get to where they need to go. So it’s all-encompassing, with the only requirement is that they have to be mobile.”

Program coaches have professional experience with working with children with special needs.

“It’s great to have moms and dads coaching; don’t get me wrong,” Shaw said. “But I wanted these parents to feel like their kids are not out there with people who are just trying to teach them soccer. Their kids are going to be instructed by people that work with special-needs children as a profession.”

And there will be volunteers from Free Chapel in Gainesville also helping on the field.

“I wanted each child to have a buddy,” Shaw said. “I’m calling them ‘angels on the field.’ Just to have somebody there beside them, because I think if my son had that, he would’ve been great. He just kind of needs those little reminders.”

The coaches and volunteers are there so the parents can have some time to relax and just enjoy the games.

“You want to be like any other parent,” Shaw said. “You want to be on the sidelines cheering your child on, and watching your child have so much fun and learn that team dynamic. (In) the special-needs community, so many times, the parents don’t get that opportunity.”

Along with providing those socialization and fitness skills, there are life lessons weaved through the program.

“They actually have team values that they teach each week,” Shaw said, “whether it be teamwork or being kind, sharing ... all these different things that you learn when you learn a sport. We’re going to use those same things so these children can get the same good foundation and messages that come from playing a sport.”

The soccer games will be held at Maranatha Christian Academy, at 5135 McEver Road in Oakwood. The T-ball program will be the Baldor Electric Company’s baseball field, at 4349 Avery Drive in Flowery Branch.

Registration is ongoing through Feb. 26, for $75 per registrant. Participants are required to have soccer shin guards and a baseball glove.

There are scholarships and payment options available for families who may not be able to meet that $75 requirement.

“The goal is to get the kids active and out there,” Magram said.

“We’re really excited to offer it,” he added. “It’s something that we’ve been talking about for a while.”

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