The American Youth Soccer Association’s (AYSO) Very Important Player (VIP) Program creates a fun and safe environment for children with physical or mental disabilities to enjoy skill-building drills, games, and playing soccer with their high school-aged buddies.“It just melts my heart and it motivates me to come out every week and play and be silly with the kids,” said Scott Hetherington, division director and a parent on the team. 

Players (in red) and their buddies (in white) go head to head in the main soccer match.

Tate Wernikoff, one of the players, said, “I actually really love my team because it is so awesome and I got inspired to do soccer.” She elaborated, saying, “Soccer is my favorite sport of all time.”

Hetherington explained what he loved most about the program: “All the kids. Just seeing all of their smiles. Like Daphne when she’s in a good mood and starts giggling and laughing. It’s so much fun. Max, who’s in a wheelchair, he comes out and right when you start talking to him his face just lights up.  Their smiles are amazing.” Hetherington and his son, Cole, have been a part of VIP Soccer for about seven years. Hetherington explained that at first Cole did not enjoy playing soccer, but now, through the program, he’s developed a love for the sport. 

Aaron Schinko plays goalie, one of his favorite positions.

Rachel Warshaw, a sophomore at M-A, has been a buddy for the past three seasons. She explained that being a part of the VIP Program is very rewarding and said her favorite part is “making people happy, honestly. Just seeing their smiles. I feel like people with special needs kinda get left behind sometimes, so I feel like things like this where we’re able to come out and be together with them is just really amazing.” Warshaw said being a buddy is “definitely my favorite thing I’ve ever done.”

James Matta, another player, says what he likes best about VIP Soccer is playing in the games and the people. With a laugh, he added: “Scott is so funny!”

Hetherington said that the players “really enjoy hanging out with all the buddies. They don’t get a lot of opportunities, because a lot of times in the real world, at school, a lot of the typical kids, they don’t know how to interact with them. This gives a great opportunity for the typical kids to get introduced to them. They just want to be accepted by people, and this bridges a gap that exists in the real world.” He added that often the buddies are shy when they first start out, but as they get to know the kids, playing with them becomes natural. 

The Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Redwood City based team, meets every Saturday morning at Hawes field.

It’s a tradition for players to go through a tunnel at the end of each practice.

Izzy Leake

Izzy Leake is a junior and second-year writer with the Chronicle. She is excited to report on the M-A and local communities.

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