As Parkland Buddy Sports prepares to commemorate the 10th anniversary of its soccer program, Jeb Niewood takes a look back at how everything evolved.
“When my son was in elementary school, I was a volunteer in his class and there was a boy with Down Syndrome,” said Niewood, who founded the organization that offers play to those with physical and/or mental disabilities. “I loved seeing how that child was treated in the [mainstream] classroom, so I wanted to take that treatment even further in a sports realm.”
A decade later that student, Bradley Schneider, still talks about the numerous friendships he has developed from his soccer buddies over the years.
“I’ve always loved playing on my team; that’s why I’ve done it for so many years,” said Schneider, 22, who began playing Parkland Buddy soccer in its inaugural season and looks forward to when he leads his team in warm-up exercises. “I plan on playing for Parkland Buddies for many more years.”
On the other side of the program’s partnership, the buddies have also gotten plenty of enjoyment.
“My older brother did Parkland Buddy Sports for a bit and I saw how much he loved it,” said Scott Cohen, 17, who has been volunteering for five years. “It’s great when the parent of a player acknowledges what we volunteers do, especially when they tell me how I’ve positively impacted their child’s life.”
The soccer program began with 20 players and 30 volunteers, in which buddies assist players on the field. It has blossomed into a full-blown league, now with flag football, basketball, tennis, kickball and its new running program.
“I had seen too many kids with special needs on the sidelines of their siblings’ and friends’ games for years,” Niewood said. “I figured it’s their turn to play and have people cheering for them.”
The celebration and fundraiser walk in connection with the program’s milestone year is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Nov. 12 at John H. Quigley Park, 7901 Parkside Drive in Parkland. The day’s various festivities will be capped off with a soccer game, initiating the season.