Louisville Men’s Soccer Team Recognized as ACC Game Changers

Cardinals reach out to special needs community through “Kickin’ It With JT & Friends”

Members of the University of Louisville men’s soccer team have been recognized as Atlantic Coast Conference “Game Changers.”

The “Game Changers” initiative was introduced last year to recognize and highlight specific ACC teams’ involvement with their local communities.

“We are pleased to honor this outstanding initiative by one of our member institutions,” said ACC Commissioner John Swofford. “I applaud the Louisville men’s soccer players, coaches and staff for their commitment to what is certainly a terrific initiative.”

For the last five years, the men’s soccer program at Louisville has teamed up with the special needs community to celebrate life. The team annually hosts a special needs soccer clinic called Kickin’ It With JT & Friends, a service event in the community focused on creating an unforgettable experience for its participants. 

The clinic has grown over the years, and operates at capacity with 50 participants and over 100 volunteers. In addition to the clinic, the program has recently formed a partnership with the Churchill School for special needs children, located in the backyard of Lynn Soccer Stadium.

In the spring of 2015, the leadership from the two organizations came together and developed an adapted, soccer-specific curriculum for students ages 5 to 21 with special needs. Members of the team and staff volunteered on a weekly basis, implementing the curriculum in a five-week workshop. The workshop included soccer demonstrations and an overview of soccer rules, fundamental skills, and adapted skill drills. The workshop concluded with a modified soccer competition. Throughout the workshop, the soccer players became more adept at working with students who have disabilities and learned how to modify the sport to allow access for students with even the most significant disabilities.

The project culminated in the soccer program hosting a field trip for the Churchill School at Lynn Soccer Stadium, providing them with a tour, showing highlight videos, and taking them on to the game field to play games and share time together.  Many of the members of the school have gone on to attend Kickin’ it with JT & Friends and also attend the home matches to cheer on the team.

The 2014 ACC Freshman of the Year Tim Kubel describes his time with working with the programs as “life changing.”

“I think it has been a very humbling experience,” added Louisville senior defender and SAAC president Jerry Ramirez. “It has helped us value the things we take for granted.  It has also challenged us to have enthusiasm even when we don’t have immediate, recognizable feedback.  It is so moving when a kid with special needs finally smiles at you!  Also, we have learned from these relationships how important it is to have a great attitude, because they themselves are so positive, and they do their very best despite their special needs.”

The partnership has also proved rewarding for staff members from the Churchill School.

“Teachers from Churchill Park saw the U of L students make efforts to engage with the sport and players at a level they had not seen before,” said Churchill resource teacher Leah Radatz. “It was a mutually beneficial experience for everyone.”