Written by Valerie and Charlotte Jakobi
The game of soccer is continuously being introduced to new groups of players at practices and events across the United States. One of the most recent introductions of the sport occurred in Hawai’i on December 30, 2023, when TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer) made its first appearance in the Aloha State. Given that moniker for its welcoming, compassionate, and respectful nature, it was the perfect location for a league that shares some of those same qualities.
TOPSoccer is a program through US Youth Soccer that provides adaptive soccer opportunities for people with disabilities in a safe, encouraging, inclusive, and fun environment. Players participate alongside volunteer buddies to ensure all activities and games are modified to each individual athlete and to build meaningful relationships between everyone involved.
Valerie Jakobi, a volunteer head coach and coordinator of a TOPSoccer program in Schaumburg, Illinois, returned to her alma mater — Leilehua High School — on a family trip to Hawai’i. She was on a mission to bring TOPSoccer to her former community on the island. Together, with the support of USYS TOPSoccer West Region Chair Sandy Castillo and Hawaii Youth Soccer Association President Scott Keopuhiwa, Jakobi began organizing the ‘Kickin’ it to the New Year’ TOPSoccer Clinic with locals. The purpose of the one-day event was to introduce the special nature of TOPSoccer to soccer players and volunteers across the island of O’ahu. In total, more than 120 players and volunteer buddies shared the pitch on a beautiful afternoon in the community of Wahiawa. Hawai’i Rush’s Daren Kaneshiro recruited participants and volunteers, many of which came from his club. The Rush also donated bento lunches for the volunteers attending pre-event buddy training. The thoughtfulness of the lunch spread Aloha beyond the event as $2 from each box is being donated to Maui relief through a fundraiser to help the community that was devastated by wildfires earlier in the year.
Activities at the clinic included a warm-up, obstacle course, scrimmages, and an introduction to basic soccer skills and activities. In addition to t-shirts presented to each player on arrival, adaptive soccer and sensory equipment was available through a grant award from US Youth Soccer and other donations. After the event, each player was given a goodie bag with items purchased from individuals of the Schaumburg Athletic Association TOPSoccer program to showcase their love for the community.
Mindy Miyamoto, whose daughter Remi participated in the event, shared how much fun it was for both of them and explained the need for such a program.
“This is just what kids with disabilities need — sports that are modified for them,” she said. “Her (Remi) buddy was so patient and understanding. She worked at my daughter’s level.”
TOPSoccer is not only about player development, but also the personal development of the volunteer buddies. It’s a chance for people who may not normally come together on a regular basis to be given the opportunity to build meaningful relationships and appreciation for one another. Many of the buddies at the event were moved by the bond they were able to create with the players in just one day. One buddy, Tatum Tokuda, talked about her experience at the event and what it meant to her in particular.
“I felt that it was really important to share soccer with the world, because it allows the people to learn new things and experience them too,” she said. “I think it’s important to share how soccer can be played in different ways.
The hope is that as the special memories created at the December event fade, they are replaced by experiences from the many TOPSoccer practices and events in Hawai’i to come. With the groundwork now laid and momentum gained, the Hawaii Rush Soccer Club plans to start the Aloha State’s first TOPS program in the near future. Be on the lookout for more fun on the islands.