Two women are helping to open the doors to a world of footballing fun for a number of young special unit students in the Auckland region.
Auckland Football Federation football development officer Angela Wallbank and Special Olympics Regional Sports Coordinator Mel Giles recently joined forces to help bring a Special Olympics Football Festival to life in the Auckland area.
“Last year we ran Football in Schools at some of the special units in schools around Auckland which saw some of our football coaches go in and run that – this is a by-product of that,” Wallbank says.
The festival was held in Pakuranga on Wednesday, 26 February and saw close to 60 young students taking advantage of the opportunity.
“Today the numbers are a little lower, but we have 60 kids here today,” Giles says.
“Throughout the two terms we had 130 students go through the programme and 12 schools active so for a pilot programme that’s quite amazing,” she continues.
“I think football is a really good catalyst for bringing all genders together to play football. At the moment we are looking at the five-a-side module so everyone can participate.”
Wallbank says an event like the Special Olympics football festival is beneficial to all of the groups and individuals involved.
“This is a free event, and we’ve also upskilled the teachers so they have the sustainability to run the programme at their school,” she says.
“I think with the Whole of Football plan and our Football in Schools it shows that it’s not just a programme that happens once, but that there’s other products out there that we use to keep kids involved in football – whether that be through festivals or going out to their schools.”
The pair say while the festival and the Football in Schools modules have taken a mixed approach so far, there’s no reason why they couldn’t branch out into female-only competitions for special unit players.
“We can definitely do female only competitions,” Giles says.
“We’ve definitely got enough females within our Special Olympics catchment area, and in New Zealand. It is just a matter of segregation, and I think sometimes with our special unites within schools they’re mixed, so we tend to stick to the mixed approach.”
Being given the opportunity to get involved in football proved a fun and exciting experience for most of the participants.
Thirteen-year-old Katrina Lee of Pakuranga College was a huge fan of the event as it gave her a chance to show off her skills.
“We’re a team and we’ve had lots of fun today,” Lee says.
“It’s playing football and I won a game. I scored a goal because I’m good.”
Another young lady making the most of being out of the classroom and on the football field instead was Sunnydene Special School Satellite Onehunga High School student Laura Thompson.
“I’m here today playing soccer with my team, our team name is the Titans and we’re just here to have fun,” the 21-year-old says.
“It’s a huge thing to participate and just join in on every activity that has gone on. If you’re a girl you just go in and have fun. Just go out and have fun with your team and score as many goals as you can.
“It’s best to be on an all-girls soccer team because it’s easier to score goals with different age groups.”
Describing some of the talent on display at the festival, Giles says there are certainly a few football stars in the making, and says there is a wide range of abilities on display.
“We have players like Laura who is active and loves to get amongst it then we have five-year-olds who are here and it’s their first time touching a football – they’re giving it a go and smiling.
“We’ve kind of got a mixed bag of abilities and ages so it’s cool to see the five-year-olds coming though, developing. And then our older guys who have been here eight years who know how to do a turn and tackle – that’s amazing for us as well.”
Oceaniafootball.com visited the Special Olympics Football Festival as part of a series in support of International Women’s Day.
The theme for 2014 is Inspiring Change, with activities being held around the world, including Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, New Zealand and New Caledonia, on 8 March.