Livingston’s shining stars -- children with special needs -- took to the fields at Monmouth Court on Saturday morning to learn to play soccer. The event was the kick-off for the Senior, Youth & Leisure Services Shining Star Sports League.
The inspiration for the program came from Livingston parents Michelle and David Allen who wanted a place for their son and his friends, who also have developmental disabilities, to play sports. “We had to do a lot of running around to find fields or indoor gyms for our kids to play,” said Michelle, who started conducting the outdoor activities three years ago. “So we wanted to do what we could to change that.”
Fast forward to the present where a chance meeting with Mark Silance, Livingston Township’s Adaptive Recreation Coordinator, would change everything. The Allens, along with friend Pam Tepper, spoke to Silance about developing a sports program. The result is the Shining Star league.
“The ladies really got the ball rolling,” said Silance. “Because of this program, these kids get a chance to come out and play. Sure the goals and field play are smaller but it’s just perfect for them. It’s rewarding and I’ve had kids come up and say how excited they were to score a goal. You can’t beat that.”
In developing the league, Silance got input from Kevin Taylor of Summit Recreation, who runs a similar program. At Saturday’s kick-off, 44 kids from Livingston, Cranford, Springfield, and Millburn warmed up, received instruction on kicking the ball, and played an initial round of soccer. Smiles and excitement could be seen on their faces as they ran back and forth, accompanied by their volunteer Shadows.
Samantha Brown, a sophomore at Livingston High School, is one of several Shadows who escort the kids up and down the field. “I have a brother with SMA ((spinal muscular atrophy),” she said. “I have always been around special needs kids and this is something I wanted to do. It’s my way of giving back.”
Anna Torrens, whose son Michael has cerebral palsy, was ecstatic to see him outdoors playing with other children. “It’s good exercise,” she said. “Even though he can’t walk on his own, I want him to do this. He’s moving around and gets to meet new people.”
In addition to other parents and a number of volunteers, Mayor Rudy Fernandez was also in attendance. “This is great,” he said. “With the adaptive recreation program, we’re reaching out to kids who have special needs. I’ve always had an affinity for special needs programs and projects. This is a community that we shouldn’t forget. We couldn’t be more proud of the group that put this together. It wouldn’t be possible without town staff and volunteers.”
The league is a joint program with the Livingston Advisory Committee for Disabilities (LACD). All sports under the league have two divisions: a Junior Division for kids age 5 to 9 and a Senior Division for youngsters age 10 to 16.
Other sports offered by the Shining Star Sports League include Basketball (Nov. 19-Jan. 28); Floor Hockey (Feb. 4-March 31) and T-Ball/Baseball (April 14-June 9).
To register your child, log on to http://livingstonsyls.org/ or enroll at the SYLS office at the Livingston Senior and Community Center, 204 Hillside Ave., Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The cost is $75 per sport. For program qualifications and volunteer signup, email Mark Silance at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (973) 535-7925 ext 267.