Program connects special needs kids and student-athletes through soccer

Jan 12, 2023, 8:00 AM | Updated: Jan 13, 2023, 6:38 pm
The program is part of an initiative sponsored by Utah's First Lady Abby Cox. {Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

DAVIS COUNTY, Utah —  A program, started as part of an initiative by Utah’s First Lady Abby Cox, connects student-athletes and students with special needs for an opportunity to play sports together.

Eight high schools in Davis County are participating by sending teams to participate in Unified Sports tournaments. 

Reese Robinson, a senior and a peer leader for Unified Sports at Layton High said a few of the special needs students already knew the fundamentals of soccer while others did not. However, Robinson said it’s rewarding either way.

“A couple of the students kind of knew the idea of it, and they were familiar with it but most of the students didn’t know how to play.  But it was super fun coaching them and showing them how to play,” she said.  “Just the excitement they got when they scored, and goofed on some moves, it was fun to see.”

According to Robinson, each of the eight participating schools has about 20 students in the program. The games are played at the Rack in North Salt Lake and a field in Farmington.  Regular practices take place at individual school gyms.

Robinson said as a mentor and coach, she’s gaining valuable teaching skills and helping students develop athletic skills.

“It made me realize how much I’d love to be a coach and how awesome it is to know how to play soccer and being able to use my skills to help others … to make it understandable to the kids,” she said. 

Robinson said she is surprised all the time at how some of the special needs kids take so quickly to soccer, even those who have never played the game.  One student, in particular, stands out.

“His name is Max and he was so good at being goalkeeper.  He loved it and stopped every ball kicked, kicked every ball out. It was so much fun seeing how happy he was when he blocked a ball, ” gushed Robinson.

The teams are made up of student-athletes and students with special needs while allowing everyone to play sports together, build a community and practice sportsmanship.


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Program connects special needs kids and student-athletes through soccer