Three age groups competed in a tournament Friday following two weeks of practice at the 14th Annual Dream Soccer event at Eagle City Soccer Complex. Photo by Brett Turner

Dream Soccer keeps the ball rolling for special needs athletes

The mugginess and rain of the dog days of August were present, but in the end meant nothing. Not when this group waits 50 weeks for the chance to compete and enjoy camaraderie on the soccer field.

Several participants took to the fields at National Trail’s Eagle City Road Soccer Complex on Friday for the final tournament of the 14th Annual Dream Soccer program where children as young as 6 to young adults with special needs experience athletic fun.

Dream Soccer is done in collaboration with the Springfield Rotary Club, Springfield Thunder Soccer Club and Special Olympics of Clark County.

There are two weeks of practice followed by the Friday tournament. It didn’t matter which elements were present; it wasn’t going to stop the games.

“These kids talk about it all year long and it’s a great opportunity for our players and the kids to interact together to teach and be a part of the experience,” said Tony Cooper of Springfield Thunder, who leads the practices.

Cooper said participating means if participants are dogging it, they’ll hear about it.

Chris Harrelson, one of the oldest players, doesn’t hear it. He takes pride in having beaten Cooper in a foot race.

When asked what he likes best about Dream Soccer, Harrelson quickly replied, “beating him.”

“It’s hard not to come back to teach new kids and others new skills,” Cooper said.

Twin brothers Chris and Richard Matthews are also Dream Soccer veterans. Richard said he was the Sergei Bobrovsky of his team as its goalie, comparing himself with the Columbus Blue Jackets’ all-star goaltender.

The tournament was for three age groups. The first two came off drenched in sweat.

By the time the youngest got on the field they dealt with steady rain, but Cooper said the game would go on as they would for any league.

Nobody seemed to mind.

That also showed the dedication to the game didn’t just come from the Dream competitors, but from the various youth players, coaches, Rotarians and spectators.

Rotarian Matt Foley refereed for all three games, making sure the kids got the full experience.

It didn’t surprise Rotary’s Bonita Heeg, who helps organize the event.

“Some of the oldest kids have been coming here each year and some only see each other here,” she said. “We were honored when the Thunder came to us to collaborate.”

Maybe the best show of adult dedication came from John Roberts. A longtime Rotarian, Roberts volunteered in the first 12 Dream Soccer camps, often donating new soccer balls to the participants.

He retired in 2016 and moved to Florida. Last year was the first time he’d missed Dream Soccer.

When he heard volunteers were needed, Roberts flew up to Springfield on Friday morning to help, cheering loudly from the sidelines, having gotten to know several of the players over the years.

He deflected any recognition for his part.

“It’s about them,” he said, pointing to the players.