Long Beach special needs students get a game of their own

For a few hours on a recent Friday morning, people from all over the city came together to help with one cause: giving young people with disabilities the chance to play a sport.

Students from the Adult Community Transition program were able to play soccer on a team—many for the first time—using wheelchairs pushed by “wingmen,” plastic guards to protect their legs and pursuing a giant soccer ball. ACT is a part of Long Beach Unified School District that provides adult students with disabilities training for vocational skills, social skills, mobility skills and independent living skills.

The Flying Tigers Black Team’s Steven Castro gets his high-five after scoring his goal at LBUSD’s power soccer game for students in wheelchairs, and the district special education program at Tucker Elementary School in Long Beach Friday, March 15, 2019. Photo by Thomas R Cordova.

The city loaned the guard rails that would form a court, Sato High School loaned portable bleachers for extra seating and LBUSD maintenance personnel left a meeting early to deliver them in the rain. Clients from a nearby vocational school made the teams’ t-shirts, the school district provided the oversized soccer balls and plastic leg guards and the Director of Special Education was a referee.

“Everybody just kept saying yes,” said Julie Denmion, a Teacher on Special Assignment at the program, which is based out of Tucker Elementary School.

Denmion had been looking for ways to do something special for the kids, particularly for the ones who are in wheelchairs, to give them “something that was theirs.”

“Many kids with disabilities are always on the sidelines watching,” she said.

Support comes from the sidelines at LBUSD’s power soccer game for students in wheelchairs, and the district special education program at Tucker Elementary School in Long Beach Friday, March 15, 2019. Photo by Thomas R Cordova.

She came up with the idea when she saw an article online about Steve Everett, an elite wheelchair athlete in Long Beach who is the Western Regional Director for the Power Soccer Association. She contacted him and he helped her plan out how ACT students could play soccer. They modified the game so everyone could play, Denmion said.

“People think they can’t, but it isn’t that they can’t, they just need somebody to come up with a way they can,” she said.

Teams of students played two games, with upwards of 100 people at each game. Kindergartners from a special education class from Buffum Elementary School also came to watch and support the older students.

“You saw parents who don’t really get to see their kids do things like that,” Denmion said. “You saw joy on their faces.”

Denmion is working to make sure this isn’t the last game for her students and to possibly make it a district-wide sport and program for her students.

Flying Tigers Black Team member Manny Rodriguez, center, battles for the ball with Flying Tigers Red Team Tyler Dykes, right, and Iran Dominguez, left, at LBUSD’s power soccer game for students in wheelchairs, and the district special education program at Tucker Elementary School in Long Beach Friday, March 15, 2019. Photo by Thomas R Cordova.

Flying Tigers Black Team member Sergio Garibay with Wingman Barry Pierre moves the ball downfield during LBUSD’s power soccer game for students in wheelchairs, and the district special education program at Tucker Elementary School in Long Beach Friday, March 15, 2019. Photo by Thomas R Cordova.

Flying Tigers Red Team’s Tyler Dykes, center, celebrates his goal as his Wingman Sovann Sry gets a little celebration from Wingman Barry Pierre, right, at LBUSD’s power soccer game for students in wheelchairs, and the district special education program at Tucker Elementary School in Long Beach Friday, March 15, 2019. Photo by Thomas R Cordova.

Student Referee Victor Zepeda-Lugo gives a thumbs up during the LBUSD’s power soccer game for students in wheelchairs, and the district special education program at Tucker Elementary School in Long Beach Friday, March 15, 2019. Photo by Thomas R Cordova.

Flying Tigers Red Team Coach Julie Denmion and Tyler Dykes, left, gets excited after coming off the field at LBUSD’s power soccer game for students in wheelchairs, and the district special education program at Tucker Elementary School in Long Beach Friday, March 15, 2019. Photo by Thomas R Cordova.

Flying Tigers Red Team’s Iran Dominguez and her Wingman move the ball downfield during LBUSD’s power soccer game for students in wheelchairs, and the district special education program at Tucker Elementary School in Long Beach Friday, March 15, 2019. Photo by Thomas R Cordova.

The Flying Tigers cheer team and mascot take to the field at LBUSD’s power soccer game for students in wheelchairs, and the district special education program at Tucker Elementary School in Long Beach Friday, March 15, 2019. Photo by Thomas R Cordova.

Support comes from the sidelines at LBUSD’s power soccer game for students in wheelchairs, and the district special education program at Tucker Elementary School in Long Beach Friday, March 15, 2019. Photo by Thomas R Cordova.

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Valerie Osier is a breaking news and crime reporter for the Long Beach Post. She’s a Riverside native who found her love for journalism while at community college. She graduated from Cal State University, Long Beach journalism program in 2017 and covered the Palos Verdes Peninsula for the Daily Breeze prior to coming to the Post. She lives in Long Beach with her husband, Steven, and her cat/child, Jones.
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