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Red Bank students help special needs children play basketball

RED BANK–Giving children with special needs an opportunity to play basketball has steered three Red Bank Regional High School students to become volunteers for RallyCap Sports.

Little Silver residents and friends John Venino, Ryan Karr and Michael Wood entered Red Bank Regional High School together with the passion to play basketball. They play together on the school’s freshman basketball team during the winter months, according to a prepared statement from the high school.

On Saturdays in the Thompson Middle School gym in Middletown, they share their love for the sport with other kids who love it, too, but need a buddy to help them play.

Through Red Bank Regional, the three young men became involved in RallyCap Sports, a program serving the special needs population for more than 28 years, as a volunteering opportunity in the community, according to a prepared statement from the high school.

RallyCap Sports began as a dream of volunteer Paul Hooker when he coached in the Lincroft Little League.

He recalled looking at a little girl in a wheelchair frustrated from the sidelines because she couldn’t participate in the fun. That ignited a passion of Hooker and his wife Margo to create a grassroots program where all kids of any ability could play sports. The simple premise was to match up each player with a buddy who could assist the player in the sport in a one-to-one ratio, according to a prepared statement.

According to John, the program runs every Saturday morning for eight weeks in the winter. Ryan, Michael, and John volunteer from 9:30-10:15 a.m. John’s sister, Reilly, also volunteers with the three ninth graders.

Ryan said he has been friends with John and Michael for about eight years.

He first learned about RallyCap Sports, because his older brothers also participated in the program, according to Ryan.

“I enjoy helping others and find it rewarding that the rewarding that the participants enjoy my company,” Ryan said.

The Red Bank Regional boys are not novices to volunteering.

Ryan volunteers to serve at Lunch Break in Red Bank, Michael performs volunteer services for his church and John is active in the Little Silver Shovels Program assigned to shovel out the homes of senior citizens living in the borough when a heavy snow falls, according to a prepared statement from the school.

Michael said he first learned about the program from Karr.

“I enjoy seeing how much fun the kids have when they make a basket,” Michael said.

Michael said residents should volunteer for RallyCap Sports, “…because you get to help out kids and also have fun at the same time.”

RallyCap Sports currently serves about 200 players in the greater area including Monmouth, Ocean and Middlesex counties. The program is made possible with over 350 volunteers who come from all over Monmouth County.

The Middletown program also depends on adult volunteers to supervise it.  One volunteer is Mike Cartier, who became involved with the program when his daughter participated and remained involved ever since, according to a prepared statement.

John said he wanted to volunteer for this program because he knew it would be a fun way to give back to his community; he also likes basketball and that it feels good to help the kids who participate in the program.

“My favorite part about RallyCap Sports is the smiles on the kids’ faces. This makes you feel good, because you know that the child is overjoyed, and you are the reason why,” John said.

While Middletown was the sole location for the program for more than 20 years, the concept was recently brought national — primarily to college campuses, furthering the Hookers’ dream.

Executive Director Luke Sims, based out of Bowling Green University in Ohio, explains the program is located on college campuses because of the abundance of volunteers and accessible sporting venues, according to a prepared statement.

“[RallyCap Sports] is a great program to volunteer for because it is a simple, but fun and meaningful way to give back to your community. A person does not need to know a lot about basketball, they just need to be enthusiastic and know that they are doing an amazing thing,” John said.

The RallyCap program currently has 13 locations throughout Ohio, Michigan and the Hookers’ home state of New Jersey, including Middletown, Seton Hall University and Ramapo College. While for years, the program ran primarily with the philanthropy of its founders, it now accepts donations through its website and requests a $20 fee for each player to help fund the program,  according to a prepared statement.

According to Sims, the fee mostly covers the RallyCap Sports shirt and season–end ceremonial trophy presented to each player, according to a prepared statement from the high school.

For more information visit www.rallycapsports.org/our-mission/.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.

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