Grand Terrace Community Soccer Club (GTCSC) has been hiding explosives in plain sight for the past 12 years with one very special team from TOPSoccer who call themselves, Dynamite. This word can be defined as “one that has a powerful effect” which is why it is the perfect team name.
Dynamite operates as part of US Youth Soccer and CalSouth. According to the CalSouth website, TOPS (The Outreach Program for Soccer) is described as a “community-based recreational program specifically designed to help athletes with physical and mental disabilities participate in soccer.” US Youth Soccer’s website includes that it “provides people with diverse abilities an opportunity to play soccer in a structured environment that is safe, fun, supportive, and inclusive.”
Dynamite's head coach, Richard Irwin, and assistant coach, Flora Sanft, have been with the team since the beginning. Players as young as 4 years old can join and play into adulthood since there is no age limit. According to Coach Richard, there are 8-10 players on average each season.
Each week, Dynamite plays a non-TOPSoccer team from GTCSC, which may range in age from 6-12, depending on the division. The opposing team follows the lead of the coaches, as to when to try to score a goal, provide competition, or encourage Dynamite players to dribble and score. The game quickly becomes a lesson in empathy and sportsmanship, showing all involved that we are more alike than different. The overall love of the game ultimately unites the minds and hearts of players, coaches, and families.
Watching the camaraderie among the Dynamite players at a recent game was a gentle reminder for everyone in attendance that teamwork, positive communication, and connection are important life skills that are successfully taught through the game of soccer. At ages 18 and 21, respectively, Hunter and Diamond are the most veteran players on the field. Diamond was the goalie in this game, and when the opposing team was dribbling the ball toward the goal, he patted his chest and said, “Bring it to me.” Hunter immediately displayed her leadership skills on the field in scoring and support. At one point on the field, she encouraged a player, who was trying to kick the ball, while being guided by a volunteer coach. Hunter stood in front of him and said, “Joey, I’m right here,” and then proceeded to tell the rest of the players to stop and let him kick the ball. The players stopped and followed alongside Joey as he did small kicks all the way to the goal.
During halftime, players went to their family members, while Coach Richard kicked the ball around with a new player, Aaron, who came to watch the team for the first time. Off the field, Diamond was offering extra oranges to the opposing team’s sidelines.
At the start of the second half, Aaron decided to play and was immediately welcomed by his new teammates. He was especially excited when Coach Richard promised him that he could kick off. Right before the first kick of the second half, Hunter looked at Aaron and said, “Are you ready?” He was more than ready. It was evident that he was familiar with a soccer ball. In addition to Hunter, Diamond, Joey (25), and Aaron (12), I also watched Leila (26), Tanner (14), and Vince (10) play in Sunday’s game.
Players and parents eagerly shared their thoughts on the program. Tanner’s favorite part of playing is “having fun with people.” He loves to practice and games equally and said Coach Richard is “nice and makes jokes a lot.”
Vince started at 6 years old. According to his mom, he is non-verbal and does not have many children in the family to interact with. TOPSoccer has helped Vince with this. “They need to interact with other kids and have a good time. Be a kid.” Being non-verbal, she said that she does not always know what he is thinking or feeling. However, when it is time for soccer, he helps set out his uniform. She describes Vince as “happy and free” being with other children, the open grass, and of course, the soccer ball.
Many parents find out through word of mouth. Leila has played for many years and her mom spreads the word to others as often as she can. The new player Aaron, who had never played soccer, grew up watching his older siblings. It was at his sister’s practice that his mom found out about the team. He was hesitant at first, but once he played his first game, he loved it. At the following practice, he told his mom that he wanted to wear his game jersey. When I asked how he liked playing, with a huge smile, he replied, “Good.”
Friendships are important relationships that have also developed on the team. One parent mentioned the correlation between friendship and party invitations. She stated that her child and others generally do not have many friends and rarely get invited to birthday parties. However, these players have developed friendships that carry over past the soccer field, and that includes occasional birthday party invitations.
If you are interested in having your child join the team or want to watch a game, the team plays every Sunday at 3:00 PM and practices every Wednesday at 6:00 PM at the upper south field of Richard Rollins Park. Spring season ends in May. The fall season will begin in August. Look for early registration. TOPSoccer registration is $10 per person. Grand Terrace Community Soccer Club, part of CalSouth District 5 (calsouth.com/topsoccer), accepts players from all areas. As long as you can provide transportation to Grand Terrace, then you are able to join Team Dynamite. TOPSoccer is a great opportunity for building social skills, confidence, teamwork, and friendships.
Share this information with anyone you know who may benefit from this experience. These players will change your perspective on what can and cannot be achieved through human connection and the game of soccer. As Coach Richard says, “We teach them soccer. They teach us courage.”