Special-needs soccer program needs coaches, volunteers

ENCINITAS — A special-needs soccer league that pairs competitive soccer players with special needs youth returns for a third year.

The Cardiff Mustangs Champions League, which a Canyon Crest Academy student helped start in 2015, is back for its third season.

The league is put on by the Cardiff Soccer League, a nonprofit competitive soccer club for players ages 5-18.

This year, three San Dieguito Academy students have taken the directorial reins of the Champions League, while the younger sister of the program’s founder, Quincy Erturk, has also joined up to promote the program her sister created.

A.J. Schumann, Sam Fraser and Aidan Cohen, a senior, junior and sophomore, respectively, are heading up the league, which runs six weeks beginning Jan. 21.

Here is how the league works: each of the special-needs players is matched with a competitive soccer player, and the pair is “buddied” together for the length of the six-week season. The duo plays every game together.

The pairs will participate in games for about half of the hourlong session that don’t involve much soccer, if any at all. 

The experience becomes less about the soccer and more about the bond that is forged between the volunteers, the children and their families, said Zoe Erturk, the 15-year-old sister of Quincy, who is now off to college three years after starting the program.

“I think what makes the league special is the connections that you make, not just with the kids, but with the players, the families, it just becomes more than about soccer,” Zoe said.

The program runs from Jan. 21 to March 11 at George Berkich Park at Cardiff Elementary School and costs $15 per player for all of the sessions. People interested in either volunteering or participating should register online at cardiffsoccer.org or cardiffchampions@gmail.com

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