HomeMarlton NewsMarlton’s Sports Unity Program provides outlet for kids with cognitive, physical disabilities

Marlton’s Sports Unity Program provides outlet for kids with cognitive, physical disabilities

With the program every child gets a chance to compete in mainstream athletics.

It’s not unique for a town to have a youth athletic association where kids can participate in local sports.

However, something a bit harder to find are organizations that provide a way for all children, including those with mental or physical disabilities, to get out and play together at the same time.

In steps the Marlton Recreation Council and its Sports Unity Program, which has spent the last four years providing those exact opportunities to special needs kids free of charge.

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Throughout the year, the Sports Unity Program gives special needs kids a chance to learn a sport in a fun, non-competitive setting with the help of non-disabled kids and coaches.

“The players are getting an opportunity to play a sport, to make friends and to feel included,” said Sports Unity Program founder and commissioner Mark vonBerg. “A couple of our keywords are opportunity, inclusion, friendship.”

According to vonBerg, the kids meet once a week and run through drills or simulated games, while at the same time coaches and non-disabled kids work directly alongside those with specials needs as if it were any other athletic activity.

The program offers basketball, football, cheerleading, track and field, street hockey, fall ball, and karate to special needs kids ages 5 to 18.

As vonBerg describes it, kids with special needs rarely get the chance to be a part of a team and play mainstream sports, so the Sports Unity Program creates that opportunity for them.

In turn, vonBerg said the kids aren’t the only ones who get to enjoy the program, as it allows many of the parents to know what other parents feel while watching their child play a sport.

“We do everything we can to put a smile on the kids’ faces, and that in turn puts a smile the parents’ faces and the grandparents’ faces,” vonBerg said.

According to vonBerg, most of the sports can have anywhere from 60 to 75 special needs players, and with players participating in multiple sports, vonBerg estimates around 300 players are involved with the program.

When factoring in the kids without disabilities, coaches and other volunteers, vonBerg said the program has close to 800 people involved in one way or another throughout the year.

“It’s just always about trying to give these kids the chance to do something that maybe they wouldn’t normally do,” vonBerg said.

To help as many people as possible, vonBerg said the program has no residency requirement and has drawn kids from as far away as Palmyra and Philadelphia.

Since the program is free, vonBerg said it relies entirely on monetary donations, donations of equipment and business sponsorships.

“I never wanted anybody to say they couldn’t do it because they couldn’t afford it,” vonBerg said. “They have enough people and programs telling them no. My goal has always been to make it free.”

To donate money or equipment to the Sports Unity Program, or to become a long-term sponsor, visit marltonrecreationcouncil.org or email vonBerg at coachvonberg@comcast.net.

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