It’s early Thursday evening and one by one, happy faces are entering the arena at Coastal Sports in Hauppauge. Hands are waving, hugs are exchanged and little feet are hopping up and down with excitement on the turf.
It’s time for TOPS.
The Outreach Program for Soccer (TOPS), is a national program that allows all children to play and enjoy soccer but, due to a special need, may not be able to keep up with the pace of a regular game.
Coastal Sports donates its indoor fields to the program, when the children aren't able to use the area's outdoor fields.
Commack TOPS, which is a branch of the program, started three years ago when Marlene Kasman, a former teacher’s aide for special education at Hauppauge Middle School, and her husband Andrew, decided they wanted to put together a program that would give back to the community, once their son had moved on to college.
They took their idea to the Commack Soccer League, which soon became its biggest supporter.
The program started with just four participants, but through word of mouth, has grown to include more than 30 children, as well as 30 volunteers.
“It’s wonderful,” Kasman said as a child kicks a soccer ball between her legs. “It gives them a chance to play soccer and wear a uniform, where normally they wouldn’t be able to do those things because on school teams, the game just goes too fast.”
During the sessions, the details of the game come secondary. “It’s mainly about exercise, self-confidence, having fun and making friends,” she said after leading a soccer-themed version of the game red light, green light.
The Kasman family doesn’t just head the program, but is fully involved – from clocking the stop watch, to holding their own in a rousing game of duck, duck, goose.
“It’s so rewarding just to be here and see how happy they are,” Kasman said. “Seeing these kids’ faces, the hugs and the smiles. Those are the aha moments for me.”
Christine Marine, whose son Andrew, 8, has been in the program for a year-and-a-half, said that the program has been a major positive influence in his life.
“He loves it. He’s so excited to come every time,” she said. “He has an older sister who plays on a travel soccer team so he’s really happy to do something that his sister does.”
While proud of the program’s achievements Kasman said that she owes its success to those who help bring it to life.
“We could not run this program without the volunteers, the parents and the whole community,” she said.