2013-05-17 / Community

Special-needs players score big tourney

VIP games part of Strawberry Cup soccer tournament
By Micheal Blank
Special to the Acorn

The 19th annual Strawberry Cup, a youth soccer tournament this weekend and next in Camarillo, is one of the largest AYSO tournaments in the country. American Youth Soccer Association (AYSO) teams have come from as far away as Arizona and Hawaii to compete in the tournament, which will draw almost 250 teams to town.

But this year ’s Strawberry Cup is unique for another reason. On Sun., May 19, several teams of specialneeds children will take to the Pleasant Valley Fields to have fun, socialize and play soccer. Never before have special-needs athletes, called Very Important Players, participated in the local tournament.

Steve Poretzky is the VIP Administrator for AYSO Section 10, a division in California that includes Ventura County. Poretzky said the participation of the VIP teams is a first for Section 10 as well.

“In the almost 50-year-old history of AYSO, Section 10 has never had a tournament which has hosted special-needs play. We’ve had special-needs tournaments that are just for the special-needs kids,” Poretzky said. “We’ve been doing that for 10 years since I’ve been running the program. But we’ve never had a mainstream tournament such as the Strawberry Cup host a VIP division.”

Very Important Players teams consist of players 4 and older who would not otherwise be able to play on a recreational soccer team due to a physical or mental limitation.

AYSO started VIP teams in 1991.

“VIP play is noncompetitive in nature. We don’t keep score, we don’t keep standings,” Poretzky said. “The goals are different than mainstream soccer. The goals are not to win. The goals are to have fun, to get exercise, to have a social experience and make friends.

“And if you learn a little bit about soccer along the way, that’s wonderful,” he said.

“Buddy volunteers” help the players during their games.

“They assist and encourage, and help educate and train the player during the course of the year,” Poretzky said.

“They can even be on the field with them. If they’re in a wheelchair, they can push them in the wheelchair, or they can hold their hand and instruct them and encourage them during training and in play,” he added.

Tim Azbell, commissioner for AYSO Camarillo, said the Strawberry Cup raises funds to reduce registration costs and provide scholarships for children whose families cannot afford AYSO’s registration fee.

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