FEELING THE JOY OF GETTING TO PLAY — Pictured are a group of special needs youth and coaches from the Adaptive Football Clinic that recently concluded at the Buffalo Bills Field House.
The Buffalo Bills Field House in Orchard Park recently echoed with the sounds of boys and girls at play. From all directions, they run down the field or toss a football here and there on a recent crisp November evening. Decked out in jerseys with their names scrolled across the back, the young athletes clearly have their game faces on.
The Adaptive Football Clinics held on four consecutive Tuesday nights for children with special needs have provided these opportunities. The program has grown over the years, with now more than 60 total enrolled for the two groups, according to Marc Collins, town of Hamburg recreation supervisor. The clinics, for youth ranging in ages 10 to late teens, provide the experience of a “football camp,” Collins said.
The clinics are held each fall for four weeks in two consecutive one-hour evening sessions, starting at 5:30 p.m. with Find Your Niche, geared toward those with Asperger’s and higher functioning levels, followed by Disabled But Abled for those with physical and mental disabilities.
A number of participants know each other as they also attend a similar town program for other sports and activities held on Saturday mornings at the Blasdell Elementary School gymnasium. That program runs through March. The Adaptive Football Clinics are supported by the town, the Donny Thiry Foundation, the Buffalo Bills Youth Foundation and the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation.
Collins oversees the two groups, working with five coaches and staff to help participants maneuver the skill stations with assistance from about 12 volunteers from the town Youth Engaged in Service program. “We start progressively, with simple activities the first week and group kids according to their skill level,” Collins said. “We have a small game at the end, with limited competition.”
The program is the first experience with team sports for many of the children and the excitement is palpable. “A lot of these kids haven’t had the opportunity to participate in a team sport before,” Collins said. “This is something they can take ownership of. Their brothers and sisters may go to football camp and this enables them to say they are going to football camp, too.”
The recreation staff has the education and training that prepares them for coaching the children in the adaptive sports and recreation programs, Collins said. “But it goes beyond that,” he added. “The commitment from staff is commendable. They are at both the Tuesday and Saturday programs and, with this group, the consistency outweighs the value of skills development.”
Parents gather behind the railed fences, watching as their youngsters make their way through the orange cones of an agility course and knock down blue, padded football dummies.
Chris Hoff of Hamburg helped to bring this program to the town, six years ago. She is an autism family advocate with credentials from Columbia University and is involved in peer-to-peer counseling. She has become a facilitator with the program. She first contacted Martin Denecke, director of the town recreation department, to request the start of a program exclusively for children with disabilities and not to be “mainstreamed” so the children with special needs could have fun, learn sports and gain social interaction with less pressure.
“Hamburg is one of the few areas to offer this type of program,” said Criag Zaluski of Lackawanna, adding that his son, Aaron, has been in the adaptive football and Saturday programs for five years. “They have affected him positively, providing him exercise and socialization.”
For more information about this program or adaptive recreation, contact Collins at 646-0655.