By Julie Thunder
It’s called The Champions League and it’s run by Cardiff Soccer. The players truly are champions but not the way you’re thinking. Their greatness lies in their ability to overcome. Each ‘Champion’ has a physical or mental disability which makes playing sports a challenge, but it doesn’t keep them from playing soccer from their heart.
The program is run by Cardiff Soccer League under the umbrella of CalSouth’s TOPSoccer program, which stands for The Outreach Program for Soccer. It typically runs for 6 sessions starting in January and only costs $15 per player. There are 3 youth leaders who manage the practices and the volunteers: Sam Fraser (a junior at SDA), A.J. Schumann (a senior at SDA) and Aidan Cohen (a sophomore at SDA).
Three years ago when teen Quincy Erturk founded the league, there were only a handful of champions. But this year the program has expanded to 23. According to team administrator Nancy Fraser, “our growing popularity is mostly due to AJ (Schumann) spreading the word to different organizations to find interested athletes.”
On Sunday afternoons, each champion athlete is teamed up with a ‘buddy’, typically a Cardiff Soccer teen, although league affiliation is not required. The champion spends the entire hour side by side with his or her buddy. The practice session begins with the champions learning basic soccer skills, then a short soccer game (no score-keeping here) and finally a human tunnel for the champions to run thru, as often as they want. Sometimes, it takes the champion a while to warm up to the idea of kicking a ball around, but as Zoe Erturk (a sophomore at CCA and the sister of founder Quincy) said, “they start out not wanting to play but end up loving it”.
When asked about giving up their Sunday afternoons, Aiden Cohen said, “It’s worth it. Everyone’s always happy and you feel good afterward,” and Sam Fraser