Children with special needs can sometimes feel like they are not a part of a community.
CATS - which stands for Children’s Adaptive Team Sports - helps these kids feel like real winners by putting them on their own basketball and soccer teams.
“We’ve had some parents who were emotional and said they thought they’d never see their son play on a soccer team,” said founder and CEO Margarita Benavides. “Eighty percent of parents said there were improvements on motor skills or attention.”
Benavides was an athlete for most of her life. She said her 26-year-old cousin, Camilo Adolfo Torres, has Sanfilippo Syndrome. He inspired her to pursue a job in special education and to create CATS - which is also his initials.
The sports teams are cross-disability and for children ages 4 through 16, she said. Disabilities range from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, hearing impairment and Cerebral Palsy. Practice is a one--hour session that includes stretching and friendly scrimmages.
The organization started its first season a year ago and now is played in Reston, Chantilly, Woodbridge and Annandale. About 40 people signed up last year and the organization serves nearly 120 so far this year.
“A lot of our players are returning players,” said Benavides. “We also have a lot players who play in both leagues, soccer and basketball. They all love getting a trophy at the end of the year, and it’s reinforcing to shoot or kick the ball themselves.”
Jay Thompson, Alexandria, has signed up his 14-year-old son Cyrus for several seasons. He said Cyrus has hearing loss in both ears, pervasive developmental disorder and spastic Cerebral Palsy.
“Cyrus is a sociable kid already,” he said. “He loves the company of other people.”
Thompson said he has already seen improvements in his son because of the program.
“He seems to be a little more balanced and stable,” he said. “The little guy was already a little dynamo to begin with. It gives him a little more confidence.”
Elizabeth Zielinski loves that she gets to cheer her 8-year-old son, Evan, on as he scores a soccer goal just like a “normal” family, she said. Evan is autistic.
“I hesitate to use the word normal,” she said. “It’s one of those things that when you have a special needs child, you just don’t think it’s going to be an experience they’ll have.”
She said her son slept with his first soccer trophy and shows it to everyone he meets.
“Not only is he happy and getting the behavioral support he needs, but we’re also getting that classic experience,” she said.
For more information on registration and locations, visit http://www.cats-sports.com/.