Connecting Communities Through Soccer: AYSO’s VIP Buddy Program

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Cover image courtesy of AYSO.

Children all around the United States participate in the American Youth Soccer League (AYSO). Recently, this tradition has been made more accessible, as AYSO recently added a VIP (Very Important Players) section to their league, where children with special needs play soccer alongside student volunteers. These students, called “buddies,” pair up with a child every Saturday morning and play soccer with them. Andy Ramroth, Carlmont math teacher and GSA advisor, organizes the weekly activity with his friend and neighbor, Steve McCreddin. VIP Soccer takes place at Red Morton Park every Saturday morning from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The spring season will begin on March 16, and Ramroth encourages M-A students to volunteer.

McCreddin was inspired to start a VIP Soccer team in Redwood City when he noticed that many areas implemented the AYSO VIP program, but not in the Bay Area. McCreddin knew Ramroth taught high school students and asked him to help start the program.

Ramroth then began recruiting his students to volunteer on the weekends and help coach the players. However, a problem arose: not many families knew about these programs. So, volunteers reached out to local elementary schools and their special education programs to spread the word. 

Ramroth said, “We have had [volunteer] shortages before. There were times when we couldn’t give the players the attention they deserve since we were short-staffed.” Most volunteers are high school students, so shortages often occur during school breaks, big exams, and popular dances and events. 

Players and buddies create long-term bonds. Senior Eva Grant has been a buddy for 2 years, and said, “My favorite times have been when I’m excited to see specific kids, and they are excited to see me every week. Once I was paired up with this kid who really didn’t want to get up off the ground or even run around, but one of the leaders came over and started to get him engaged just sitting on the ground and playing games with him. By the end, he was playing in the scrimmage and having fun, so it was very gratifying to learn from people who know what they are doing and to practice problem-solving.” 

The program builds years of relationships and community. Many volunteers have participated in this program for all four years of high school and returned during college; some former players even come back to coach. 

For students who are interested in joining, Senior Ajax Fu said, “There is no harm in going to one practice, just try it out. Most likely you will like it and keep going every Saturday.”

When asked if he had any advice for anyone who wants to become a buddy, Ramroth said, “Just give it a shot. For a lot of people, working with a special ed population or players who have different physical needs might be out of their comfort zone initially. But once you’re there, you’ll be around one of the sweetest, kindest little soccer players ever. You will see their smiles, and we think you’ll come back and enjoy it. So come out that first time and see what it’s like. Bring your friends–we like it when the volunteers bring their friends and family.”

The AYSO VIP Buddy Program connects kids across age groups and experiences, enriching the community as a whole. If you’re interested in becoming a part of the community, join the Remind by texting @h68h63f to 81010.

Nava is a junior at M-A. This is her first year in journalism. She hopes to write about world wide issues that affect the M-A family. In her free time, she like to read, play volleyball, debate, and play piano.

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