(Response to SideKick Soccer press release)
To the Editor,
The City of Somerville Recreation Department and schools are committed to serving athletes with special needs, and we wish to correct the misinformation in the press release issued by Side Kick Soccer and printed by The Somerville Times without alteration. The press release fails to mention the now-inclusive soccer clinics and teams offered through the City and schools, and that Zach Rocha, the director of this for-profit company, had been informed that the City hired the company for only a one-time program now no longer necessary due to the inclusive programs offered through the Somerville Recreation Department.
In 2012, the Recreation Department provided field space and outreach support to the nonprofit Top Soccer program, which served all athletes including those with special needs and was funded by the state. When state funding ran out, the Recreation Department eventually partnered with Mr. Rocha to have his for-profit company run a replacement program for one session. The Rec. Dept. runs on a very lean budget and does not typically hire for-profit vendors to run sports programs because it is more cost effective to run City programs. However, because of the Department’s commitment and the City’s commitment to serving all athletes, an exception was made for a one-time inclusive summer soccer program in summer 2013. It was made clear to Mr. Rocha that due to funding and field constraints that the program was only for that summer. At the same time, due to the success of Top Soccer, the Rec. Dept. began developing programs that would mainstream soccer players with special needs into regular soccer programming, meeting both the wishes of players for inclusive programming and reducing costs and field demand.
This fall, Mr. Rocha approached the Mayor’s office asking to continue his program beyond the agreed upon summer program. Because the Rec. Dept.’s own programs were not yet ready to start, the Mayor found funding in his
own office budget to fund one extra session of Mr. Rocha’s program this fall—meaning he actually received twice the funding than originally agreed, not less. It was again made very clear to Mr. Rocha that the City would—and could—only commit to that one additional session. We are happy to share that the Rec. Dept. opened its mainstream Sprout Sports program to special needs athletes on Oct. 26 and will transform its annual winter soccer clinics into inclusive programs when they begin in late December/early January.
Meanwhile, Patrick Callinan, a senior on the Somerville High soccer team who is autistic, exemplifies the pride and benefits for all when special needs students participate in inclusive mainstream teams. He played 10 games this season and scored a goal against Medford just last week causing the crowd to go wild in support. Callinan was immensely proud and deserved to be—and so was the team. We are committed to providing free and low-cost programming for all athletes, and the City and the Rec. Dept. fully support Mr. Rocha’s efforts to continue this important programming as well as he moves forward with his business endeavor.
Director of Recreation James Halloran and
Recreation Program Developer George Scarpelli
P.S. We hope to see everyone at our annual Special Olympics in the spring.
Sidekick Soccer Academy has been forced to cancel its ‘Kick with Care’ program for children with special needs and adults with disabilities as a result of Somerville Recreation’s decision to not honor its agreement with the organization.
“To say that everyone associated with the program is sad and disappointed would be an understatement,” said Zach Rocha, Director of Sidekick Soccer Academy. “This program has affected so many people in the Somerville community in such a positive way. Most of all, we are most upset for the players and their families, who have clearly benefited so greatly from ‘Kick with Care.’”
‘Kick with Care’ is an outreach program whereby modifications to the game of soccer are provided so that children with special needs or anxiety and adults with disabilities can enjoy the world’s most popular game on a weekly basis.
On the heels of a successful inaugural spring season at Winter Hill Community School earlier this year, ‘Kick with Care’ was green-lit by Somerville Recreation to receive financial funding and facility support for a year.
‘Kick with Care’ began as a fully supported program during the summer with a six-week session at Capuano Field (also known as Glen Park). The plan – which was agreed to in principle by Somerville Recreation – was to hold a series of six-week sessions throughout the year. In all, Sidekick Soccer Academy and Somerville Recreation agreed to hold 36 weeks of ‘Kick with Care’ programming over the course of 52 weeks.
“As we prepared for the fall season, we received resistance from Somerville Recreation and were not told a reason why. We were forced to find our own facility at the last minute, which, thankfully we were able to through the Department of Conservation and Recreation at Draw Seven Park,” said Rocha. “We then had to approach the Mayor’s Office directly in order to receive our agreed-upon funding. When the fall season came to a close, we offered to run the program free of funding – basically just provide us with a facility – and were told no. When we tried to rent a facility, we were told that we could pay up front for the cost of a gymnasium but that there was no guarantee we wouldn’t be bumped from the gymnasium at a moment’s notice for another program.
“Our program has been professionally run and enjoyed by everyone who has participated – players, families and coaches alike. We’ve only seen growth since we started in the spring. To have to inform the participants and everyone who donated their time that we were being forced to cancel it in Somerville was the hardest, most painful news I’ve ever had to deliver while director of Sidekick Soccer Academy.”
‘Kick with Care’ was born out of a void left by Somerville Recreation previously. While a student-athlete at Lesley University in Cambridge, Rocha saw a flyer for a TOPSoccer program being run in Somerville. TOPSoccer is the US Youth Soccer sponsored program for children with mental and physical disabilities. Having already begun his career in coaching, he decided to see what the program was all about.
“I loved it. I saw how far a high-five goes. I attended every session I could while I was in the Boston area,” Rocha said.
Rocha’s coaching career eventually took him to Anna Maria College near Worcester where he was the head men’s coach and introduced his players to TOPSoccer through a coaching clinic that was filmed on campus and broadcast worldwide on Fox Soccer Channel. He also attended a US Power Chair Soccer event with his players in Auburn.
He returned to the Boston area at the turn of last year and was surprised at the news he heard from a friend.
“I contacted John Teves – who was the director of the Somerville TOPSoccer program – to see if he was still running the program as myself and some of my interns at Sidekick had an interest in helping with coaching,” said Rocha. “John told me that, unfortunately, the TOPSoccer program was not currently in existence. But he added that he received at least one phone call or e-mail per week with former participants wanting to know when it would be re-started. When he told me that, I said, ‘Let’s create something.’ And that’s how ‘Kick with Care’ was born.”
‘Kick with Care’ is different from TOPSoccer in that while it does serve children with mental and physical disabilities, the program also welcomes children who don’t have a medically diagnosed condition. ‘Kick with Care’ also encompasses a program for adults with disabilities – something that makes it very unique.
Most adult players in Somerville have come from the Walnut Street Center.
“A lot of these adults have one form of (weekly) activity and (‘Kick with Care’) allows them to have another activity,” said Teves. “They get to interact with other adults and they get to play the wonderful game of soccer.”
In addition to Rocha and Teves, the ‘Kick with Care’ coaching staff has included current student-athletes from Somerville High School, Lesley University, and former college players, as well just members of the community with limited soccer experience willing to give a helping hand.
“’Kick with Care’ is truly a beautiful program that has warmed all of our hearts. We have had interest from the communities of Spencer, Newton, Lexington and Arlington to create programs with them, but this is where it started and this displaces the players and families who we’ve become so close to,” said Rocha, who now lives in Somerville, where Teves also resides.
– Press release from Sidekick Soccer Academy