STAR, Inc., Lighting the Way is proud to partner with Sports Buddies, a recreational exercise and athletics program for young people with developmental disabilities. The program meets at New Canaan High School on Saturday mornings from 9-10 a.m. and was created by Howie Berg and Josh McDonald, two New Canaan public school teachers, to provide a recreational outlet for students with developmental disabilities. Program participants play recreational games while working together with volunteer “Sports Buddies” who encourage them and help them to build skills. Many of the buddies are special education teachers or advisors, while others are students and adults in the community. They work with the students on skills like teamwork, general exercises, stretching, running, calisthenics, group play (such as parachute play), skill development such as shooting, dribbling, arm and leg movements, and pick-up basketball games.
Howie Berg and Jimmy
Although not required, parents often stay during Sports Buddies sessions to watch, volunteer or network with other parents. For example, Patricia Clendenin of Darien, is the mother of Joseph, a 21- year old Sports Buddies participant with Down’s syndrome. Clendenin says “This program is very much in demand. We found many activities were no longer available to Joseph once he reached age 21, so this program was just terrific. The kids make new friends and really enjoy working with the “buddies” by playing one-on-one or in a group… and Howie is so welcoming and accommodating. We took to this program right away.”
Howie Berg, co-founder of Sports Buddies agrees. “There was a need for this program,” he says. “Many kids play or have practices on Saturday mornings. Their parents often do, too. We felt these kids should be able to enjoy playtime and athletics, too. We wanted to give them a venue.”
Oliver works on improving his shots as his volunteer buddy and coach look on
Josh McDonald, co-founder of the program, explains, “When I started teaching (at South Elementary School in New Canaan) there was a special education sports/soccer program that disbanded so Howie and I decided to work together and create a program. That concept has continued to grow and expand. Now it’s a year-round program for kids and adults and there really is no age limit. It’s a terrific program - amazingly rewarding.”
Kameron Ong, a senior at New Canaan High School, says volunteering for Sports Buddies has been very rewarding. She says, “I think this program is great. It’s a commitment. I’ve worked with Ellie, a Sports Buddy participant, since September. My friend Kavya Dagli and I work together with Ellie so she knows us both. She expects to see us. We make sure one of us always comes on Saturdays.”
Jack Piscitell of Weston with Josh McDonals, co founder of Sports Buddies
Kameron explained that she has learned different ways to communicate because of Sports Buddies. “With Ellie, we learned how to work with her even though she doesn’t speak. She started to write things out on her hand for us (with her finger) and then we could take her lead and write back and know whether she wanted to do a certain activity. That was a turning point, when we found a way to communicate.”
Kameron will be leaving for college at the end of summer, and she plans to pursue studies that will enable her to work with children.
Floor exercises with Sports Buddies are more fun
Katie Banzhaf, Executive Director of STAR said, “Sports Buddies is a terrific program. It changes lives – not just the young people who attend, but also the families, coaches and volunteers. We have known about it for quite some time and are pleased to work with Howie and Josh. There is definitely a need for this type of a program and we are glad to be able to help fulfill it. When Howie contacted us, we were immediately interested.”
Sports Buddies is one of several programs STAR offers for young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. Other programs include Sibshops, a recreational program for siblings of people with disabilities (ages 7-13) who get together and share activities while discussing challenges they face in their families, sharing advice and understanding on the unique role of being a brother or sister to someone with special needs. STAR also offers numerous recreational opportunities for people over age 16 such as movie nights, sports activities (such as outings to baseball and hockey games), garden club, music club, dances, exercise groups and more. Also, STAR assists students transitioning from high school to their first job in the community and supports them with volunteer opportunities, residential options and future planning to help them live more independently. For information about STAR’s programs, contact STAR’s Director of Family Support, Linda Snell, who can help answer questions about eligibility and availability and help navigating the State Department of Developmental Services (DDS) system, Birth to Three Services and program referrals. Linda Snell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.