By: Amelia Dasari— Online Editor-in-Chief
The Sharon STARS program, which works with kids with special needs, wrapped up its 13th fall soccer early last month.
The program was created by Kathleen Dykeman in 2009, with the hope of creating a welcoming environment for kids with autism and other disabilities to play sports with their peers.
Dykeman was inspired by her 18-year-old son Colin, who was only 6 years old when she started the program. “We wanted him to have the opportunity to learn how to play sports so (with the help of many other wonderful people) we began the STARS program”.
There are ample opportunities for kids with intellectual disabilities to join. The program has soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, and tennis in the spring. “Our goal is to provide a consistent, reinforcing, calm program where kids with intellectual disabilities can succeed and socialize, ” says Dykeman.
Sophomore Tony Kang, says he enjoys the STARS soccer program. “I really enjoy it because it just allows me to stay active, be with friends, and most importantly, have fun.”
Kang has been a part of the program for 10 years, ever since he was in kindergarten. “I’ve been doing this since elementary school. What makes it a lot of fun is that there are a bunch of very friendly volunteers who can be so helpful and supportive to kids with disabilities”.
Most of the volunteers in this program are Sharon High School students. Current volunteers range from 7th to 12th grade and include Cam and Max Sherman, Zach Connors, and Rick Das. Some members of the Sharon High School girls soccer team also participated, including Captain Samatha Connors.
Connors has been volunteering for the last few years and has helped with basketball and tennis as well. “I volunteer with STARS for all three sports seasons and it is something that I look forward to every week”.
She adds that being a volunteer is very rewarding and a great experience. “I’d say the most rewarding part is at the end of the season when the athletes receive their medals and you see the big smiles on their faces. The environment of STARS is really great as it gives these kids the opportunity to improve a lot”.
Despite having many student volunteers, STARS is not very publicized among Sharon High students. Kang says he hopes this will change in the future. “ A few kids in the Pathways program at our school are already in STARS, but it would be great if more kids joined. I also think more teachers and students should know about it”.
“In terms of volunteers, kids who are already volunteers there can let their friend(s) know about stars and ask if they can get involved in assisting too so they can have a chance to earn community service hours for their future college applications,” says Kang.
Despite the ongoing pandemic, the program still continued over the last two years. Organizers, volunteers, and participants took the right precautions to ensure the season could happen. “I have three children in total,” says Dyekman. “This is the one thing we do each week that I am the proudest of. I love all our STARS and our amazing volunteers”.
As one season wraps up, another one begins. The STARS program has opened up registration for their annual winter basketball season. The season starts January 2 from 12 to 1 pm East Elementary, and kids can sign up at the Sharon Recreational Department. All students are welcome to volunteer or participate in the program itself.