As such, any child with a severe auditory or visual impairment, orthopedic handicap, behavior deviations or mental retardation would benefit from a special sports program because he or she requires a special learning environment that is directed towards identifying and remediating their physical as well as cognitive deficits. This could include cerebral dysfunctions, impulse disorders, mental retardation, Down's syndrome, physical handicaps, learning disabilities, Epilepsy, etc.
In 1979, the Long Island Junior Soccer League became the first formal soccer league to establish a special children's soccer program. As a result, a whole new dimension was added to the youth soccer program on Long Island, and it was all thanks to the foresight of another volunteer. To that point, soccer, like most sports, focused their energies on able-bodied, athletic kids. Enter Mike Ludin, a member of the HBC Soccer Club, and the father of a son with Downs Syndrome.
One day, at one of his brother's games, that son, Craig, ran onto the field and wanted to play. Later that night, Mike spoke to his wife about allowing Craig to play soccer. They both thought, "Why not?" Mike went on to propose a special program that would allow his son and other children with physical limitations, motor dysfunctions, and learning disabilities to play. These children needed exercise and could benefit greatly from the team building activities that soccer could provide.
Ludin received the blessing of his club, and after outlining the program and establishing a plan, he secured the help of a volunteer group that included Judie Fein, Arlene Cirella, Larry Pagliaro, Joe Lombardo, and Charlie Muller. The program was put into place. Ludin then asked LIJSL President Peter Collins if he could address the club presidents at an upcoming meeting. The message was received, and shortly thereafter there were seven clubs with similar programs, serving over 250 children.
The fields at James Allen Learning Center in Dix Hills could no longer accommodate the program. But then a woman named Marge McGory, who worked for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, informed the group about a vacant CYO camp property on Ruland Road in Melville. She received the necessary permissions, and this plot known as Marydale became the new home of the Special Children's Program. Unfortunately, the diocese was later forced to sell off the land, forcing the program to find a new home.
Collins went to County Executive Tom Gulotta to ask for a piece of county property to house the special children's program. A section of land in Plainview on the old Nassau County Services property was provided, and that plot continues to serve as the home of the program today.
However, Ludin was not done. He approached the NYS Special Olympics Committee in an effort to gain recognition for the program. The committee agreed to include soccer as part of the state program, and Werner Roth, former NY Cosmos captain and past Chairman of the US Special Olympics program helped train many of the coaches. Today, staff coaches continue to be trained by Special Olympics guidelines, and several teams have taken part in the Empire State Special Olympics.
Ludin retired as chairperson in 1987, and the reins were handed to Ann Marie Toth, who continues to run the program along with her husband Kal.
The program was given the name TOPSoccer due to its affiliation with the USYSA, and now 17 clubs are currently running a TOPSoccer program. What's even better is that the young boy who ran on the field over 30 years ago is still participating in the TOPSoccer program!