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Challenger baseball division inspires Special Olympics soccer in Warren

Art submitted to Times Observer

Baseball was such a hoot, a group of parents has decided to start a Warren County Special Olympics soccer program to boot.

Dr. William Clark, executive director of BEi — which offers extracurricular activities for individuals with disabilities in addition to employment opportunities — admitted soccer was, sort of, a spinoff from the Little League Challenger Division started in the Warren County Youth Baseball Softball Association.

“First, we took the idea to the Warren County Special Olympics board, and they said they approved starting new sports as long as there are volunteers to (organize and run them),” said Clark.

And he added that it’s “self-fulfilling” based on the fact his son will participate in the soccer program.

Clark said baseball is a little more difficult sports skill than soccer, so he’s hoping this will catch on, so to speak, including a little more with his son.

“So far, so good,” he said of the level of interest he’s received.

Clark said it’s the same or similar group of parents organizing and running the soccer program as the Challenger baseball division, including Jeff Eggleston.

“For my kids, who are both autistic, this provides an opportunity to play and compete in an environment that nurtures their strengths as well as their challenges,” said Eggleston. “It is safe and it is fun.”

This is a Special Olympics sport being organized for ages 8 to 15 only, and held from 5 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays, beginning August 7 through September 25.

Clark said the location is perfect as it’s right across the street from BEi at 44 N. State St. in North Warren at the Kinzua Soccer Fields on the Warren State Hospital property.

In addition to Kinzua soccer, Eisenhower High School’s girls’ soccer team may be a future partner; Clark’s daughter plays on that team.

“When we have an opportunity, we include typical kids, usually in a scrimmage at some point, and the kids just love it,” said Eggleston. “Everyone learns so much about each other and it’s a great way for them to socialize.”

Clark said this is the first year of the program and it will start out focusing on skills rather than competition.

But Eggleston said he doesn’t think it will take longer for the kids to get into it.

“In the Challenger division, when we did the final scrimmage with the typical folks in Little League, our kids were even in the dugout completely silent, staring at the field,” he said. “I haven’t seen that kind of determination since I played a playoff game in high school football. It was pretty awesome to be there.

“I have a lot of fun (volunteering),” said Eggleston. “Frankly, this is the most fun thing I do. As far as public service goes, I wish all projects were this fun and rewarding.”

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For information on the Special Olympics Warren County Soccer Program, call BEi at 723-8431.

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