Lady Terriers making a difference

The Rocky Hill High School girls’ soccer players could spend their fall Saturdays doing whatever they choose. What they (the entire team) has chosen is to take on the roles of mentors as part of the TOPS Soccer program.

The Sidekicks team was created this year by the team’s coach Annemarie Catania and Rocky Hill superintendent Mark Zito, along with some urging from parents.

“Dr. Zito wanted to build more programs for Special Ed. kids, so, they came up with this and asked me if I wanted to do it, since I work at the high school,” Catania said, adding that the Sidekicks is the best part of her week.

Each Terrier each spends time with the same differently-abled young person for an hour each Saturday (They also mentor younger players (3-5 years old) for two sessions earlier in the morning), beginning with some simple conversational time. The first 5 minutes of the hour together is spent catching up and getting to know one another.

“We spend five minutes before each practice asking them how their day was, how they are doing, and if there is anything they want to talk about,” one Terrier said. “It makes them feel like they’re one of us.”

“We play soccer with them, and at the end we go in a circle, hold hands, and play under the parachute,” said team captain Dominica Montalvo, adding that while some of the mentorees have played soccer in unified sports programs, the soccer skills taught are limited to fundamentals, but the special needs players just enjoy the interaction.

“Some of them don’t know how to play, so they can just do whatever they feel like,” one of the player-mentors said.

“Even the first day, my little boy didn’t know how to pass or kick,” one Terrier said. “He would just sit down. It was nice to see how, after one hour, he could kick the ball and pass it to me.”

There really isn’t anything difficult about mentoring, according to the players, it just takes a little bit of patience.

“Just seeing their smiles really breaks my heart,” one player said. “You can tell they really enjoy it.”

Montalvo said one of her mentorees is a fellow Rocky Hill student, who when he sees her in school, reminds her that he is looking forward to his Saturday soccer session.

“He just can’t wait to go back to it,” she said.

“You see the parents on the sideline, crying and watching their kids, and it makes me tear up,” another player said.

The mentorees aren’t the only ones who are benefiting from the Sidekicks program.

“We look forward to Saturday mornings,” said one player.
“It’s beyond satisfying,” said another.

“It makes you feel really good that you’re touching someone else’s life, and they are touching yours,” another player said.

“I’m just honored to be able to work with them,” one player noted.

The Terriers added that the experience is making them stronger as a team.
“Definitely,” they said.

“It helps bring the community together, and it makes everyone stronger,” one player said.

The Sidekicks program will continue for about six weeks, but the Terriers players don’t want it to end, and are entertaining the idea of moving the soccer sessions indoors, or possibly trying a different sport or activity.

“Hopefully, we can continue with it in some way,” said senior Olivia Sabol.

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