NORTH BRUNSWICK – Though the North Brunswick Buddy Ball Soccer program has already kicked off for the season, the organization is still seeking players and “buddies.”
Around 20 years ago, North Brunswick modeled its Buddy Ball program off Edison, which was the first area town to pair children age 5 and older who have physical and developmental challenges with peers while practicing sports drills in a fun, relaxed environment.
“To see the impact you have on some of these kids is great,” Director Tim Adams said. “As bad of a week as I may have at work, come Saturday I see the kids and it’s very enriching. … This may not be the most important day of the week for you, but for [the players] it is.”
George Shamy, Sherri Telleri and Pete Clark began the soccer program. The late Ned Geiger paired with Shamy for about nine years, around 2005. Adams, who was a coach in 2006, took over in 2013, according to information provided by Clark and Adams.
The soccer program averages give or take 30 registrants in each spring and fall session. Around 15 to 20 buddies volunteer each week, including members of high school clubs and sports teams, church groups and Rutgers University.
“Volunteers don’t have to know soccer,” Clark said. “You just have to be there and give some support.”
The group meets from 10:30-11:30 a.m. for eight Saturdays at North Brunswick Community Park, 2053 Route 130 south. The season began on April 6.
The friendships extend off the field, as Clark said that some Buddies even babysit for the players, or step in when bullies attack.
“These kids take care of each other and look out for each other,” Adams said.
Buddy Ball also serves as “good therapy” for parents, according to Clark, who said adults can meet others in their same position, share resources, learn about out-of-district placement in schools and simply have an opportunity to get out of the house.
Adams, whose son has autism, but who is high functioning, said he has shared his own stories about workshops, benefits, free testing, medical care and parenting techniques.
“You’re seeing [my son] 12 years later, you’re not just seeing the pain,” he said. “I would say, ‘Here’s what we did to get there.’ … Parents are sometimes lost.”
“There are so many lessons to be learned,” Clark said. “You can save one life just by talking about swimming [since children with autism are attracted to water].”
The Buddy Ball program is also instilling a sense of community pride in its members, organizing a branch pickup at Community Park, holding food drives and putting American flags along the 5K path in the park in time for Memorial Day.
“We are trying to teach some other skills,” Clark said.
Also new will be the Field Day with Friends, a day planned for June when soccer teams from the area will take the field to teach new drills.
“It’s kids interacting with other kids,” Clark said. “This is something they can look forward to.”
Organizers are also interested in creating a Buddy Ball Bowling program, as long as there is no conflict with the Special Olympics. Buddy Ball Basketball is already run through the North Brunswick Department of Parks, Recreation & Community Services.
Darren Snediker and the North Brunswick Soccer Club, Tom Seilheimer and the North Brunswick DPRCS, and the North Brunswick Police Department/PBA have been big supporters of Buddy Ball, Clark said. Buddy Ball Soccer is run through the North Brunswick Soccer Club.
Clark also mentioned SEPTO, the Special Education Parent Teacher Organization.
Coaches are trained by Adams, who went through safety coaching at Rutgers. Some of the volunteers have first aid and CERT training, as well as a school background. Each coach is subject to a background check.
For more information on registering or volunteering, email firstname.lastname@example.org.