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Ormond Beach Observer Tuesday, Sep. 18, 2012 6 years ago

Improving quality of life, one game at a time

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For 10 years, Ormond Beach has used sports to improve the lives of special-needs players, and their community.

BY MATT MENCARINI | STAFF WRITER

As in every community across the country, quality of life is important to the people of Ormond Beach. But quality of life isn’t just about clean streets and beautiful parks.

It has more to do with how we choose to live our lives.

Ormond Beach’s Special Population Sports program presents opportunities for kids, and some adults, with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and emotional disabilities to be part of a team.

It gives them opportunities to learn physical, emotional and social skills they may not otherwise have had a chance to develop.

It started in 2002 with a "beep" baseball program, which utilized a specially equipped beeping ball for visually impaired players. Seabreeze athletes worked with these kids, who were able to hit or field just by listening for ball sounds.

Four years later, a multisport program was added. Participants played three sports over a six-week period.

The program was expanded in 2008 to include volleyball, and it expanded again this year with Sports of all Sorts, which is currently in season with soccer.

“The basic goal is to teach them like any other program and then give them a little more independence in what they do,” said Lori Koplin, who oversees the program.

There are added challenges, however, in simply getting them to the point where an organized game is possible.

“The first year I taught soccer ... we had to teach them to play with one ball,” said Koplin, who’s now in her fifth year running the program. “They all wanted to keep their ball and kick it. … It was very hard to say, ‘Ok, you just have to kick one ball and share it.’ And (recently) they finally pretty much played a game with no coach involvement.”

Progress to better quality of life, she said, like road work or city renovations, takes time.

Having people like Koplin around who are willing to put in the time to make things better for others is what improves the entire community’s quality of life.

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