TOPSoccer program gives back in many ways

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Wed., May. 29, 2013
Mentor Paige Cantwell directs Hayley Keezer during practice time at TOPSoccer. Photos by Steve Smith.
Mentor Paige Cantwell directs Hayley Keezer during practice time at TOPSoccer. Photos by Steve Smith.

Paige Cantwell, a senior at Glastonbury High School, has volunteered with Glastonbury's TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer) for several years. Jennifer and Marty Carroll began Glastonbury's TOPS program in 2004, after moving to town from Long Island, where they had enrolled their oldest son, Jaime, in a similar program. They found the program to be an incredible opportunity, and upon moving to Connecticut, could not find the same program here. They approached the Hartwell Soccer program and received the opportunity and the resources.

“It's an opportunity for kids to play soccer, who otherwise might not be able to play for whatever reason – if they are not comfortable, or capable enough to feel comfortable in typical recreational soccer leagues,” Jennifer said.

Each week, between 30 and 40 special needs children between the ages of 5 and 18 come to the Rotary Fields and take part in soccer practice, activities and a short game with teams of about six players each. The players are assisted by mentors of approximately the same age.

Cantwell said that when she signed up to be a junior coach at Hartwell soccer, she was presented with other opportunities, including the TOPS program. “I thought it would be fun because there were kids from all different grades,” Cantwell said. “I had done some things with special needs kids before, but I didn't really know what I was walking into. It ended up being the most fun hour of my Saturday, so I kept coming back.”

Cantwell said sometimes being a mentor involves motivating the players, and sometimes it's about guiding their moves toward scoring a goal. She said it's easy to see the effects of the program on its participants.

“I think what you see is so much confidence and pride that they play soccer,” Cantwell said. “They are just so happy to be here, and to be on a team.”

Hayley Keezer is a 13-year-old player who Cantwell has been mentoring. Her mother, Jean, said Cantwell is one of the first people Hayley was able to carry on a conversation with.

“She is wonderful with my daughter,” she said. “I don't know why, but something just connected with her. Something clicked.”

“She's nice. She shows me how to shoot a goal, [and] to run for the ball. I like that she works with me, and I like that she's my partner. She likes helping me,” Hayley said.

“What it takes is a realization that they have something to offer to their peers of different ability,” Carroll said about the mentors. “What Paige brings to the table is someone who has an endless amount of spirit and generosity within her. There are so many things, as a high school student, she could be doing. She's here because she wants to be. It means more to her than being those other places. She never minds what we need her to do, she's always got a smile on her face.”

Cantwell describes what she gets out of the program as inspirational. “Watching a young kid grow up, and overcome their challenges – it's inspiring to see how excited and how proud of themselves they can be,” she said. “You can really take that and look at what you do every day and be proud of yourself, and what you also might have overcome.”

Cantwell describes the other mentors as "patient” and “mature for their age,” and said that really anyone with the desire to can become a good mentor. “After you come for a few weekends, you become that person,” she said, adding that when she goes to Quinnipiac University next fall, she will still make the effort to come back whenever possible and take part in TOPS Soccer.

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