November 21, 2014 | by Ken Ilchuk
In 1979, a young Craig Ludin ran onto the field of his brother’s soccer game. He wanted to play. He also has Downs Syndrome. The incident sparked an idea in Mike Ludin, Craig’s dad and a coach in that game. Last Sunday, 35 years later, Mike’s idea was on full display as over 100 special needs children celebrated yet another successful season of the LIJSL’s TOPSoccer Program at their annual Fall Awards Luncheon at the Hilton Huntington Hotel in Melville.
After that day in 1979, Mike spoke with his wife, then with officials from his club, HBC, and then with Long Island Junior Soccer League president Peter Collins, and soon the first formal soccer league for special children was established. Decades later, 30 LIJSL clubs now sponsor TOPSoccer teams, allowing children with physical limitations, motor dysfunctions, and learning disabilities to play. They came together on Sunday to receive trophies, and goodie bags, to take pictures, share lunch, ice cream, and in general, celebrate!
And there was plenty to celebrate. Pete Bussa, an LIJSL Board Trustee and champion of special needs children, received the Marg McGory Award for his dedication to TOPSoccer. Two teams, HBC and Sachem, celebrated their 1-2 finish at the recent NYS Special Olympics Tournament in Lake George. Another highlight was the recognition of 52-year old Eddie Cody, a 30-year veteran of the HBC team, who is calling it a career. A tenacious defender, Eddie, who started playing with Craig Ludin on that first team, has been a mainstay in the program and will be missed.
However, judging by the number of children in the Hilton ballroom on Sunday, the program is strong, growing, and in a position to help special needs children for another 35 years and beyond.
Congratulations to all our TOPSoccer players!