A very special youth soccer coach in Rialto is being recognized for his dedication to his athletes.
Tony Valdez coaches the TOP Soccer All Stars, a team that is comprised entirely of physically and mentally challenged athletes, aged 4 and up.
Tony told Fox 11, that it all started about 10 years ago after a young girl with special needs played soccer on one of his teams.
When he saw how much that girl enjoyed learning and playing, he set out to find more kids with special needs that wanted to play. Today, he has 40 kids that play on the team. Every Friday night, they play against other traditional soccer teams in the area.
Tony told Fox 11 that it's not always easy, but he loves the challenge of helping these kids learn the game and just get out there and have fun.
“You gotta step up and help out! There’s a need for these programs.
My biggest concern is we get them all running in the same direction. We’re three weeks into the season and I do have them all going in the same direction."
Sandy Castillo is the chair for the Cal South TOP Soccer program for Southern California and she says the program is important because these kids and their parents are always hearing that their kids 'can't or won't do this' or 'they can't or won't do that' and this program is proving that the kids can do anything they set their mind to.
The parents and grandparents of the kids say that they really appreciate the confidence that Tony has given their children.
Theresa Williams has two grandkids that play on Tony's team. She told Fox 11:
"These kids are everyday kids. They aren’t Martians. They’re just kids who want to be accepted and want to be a part of society, appreciated and not bullied or picked on.”
Even the kids on the opposing teams have been really supportive saying it's so great to see the reaction on the kids' faces when they make a great play or score a goal.
For more information on this very special soccer program visit the Cal South website.