Health & Wellness

Young Athletes Program Designed by Westfield Resident a Win-Win for Kids with Special Needs

June 4, 2014 at 9:34 PM

Manny Cajigas is not one to sit on the sidelines. As much as the three-year-old Florence youngster loves watching his six older siblings kicking, throwing, batting, running and tumbling, for him, the real action is on the field.

Manny is not letting Down syndrome stop him. Every Saturday, he participates in the Young Athletes Program at the Special Olympics New Jersey Sports Complex in Lawrenceville – with his siblings there, rooting him on.

His mother, Amy, recalls a young boy who got a late start developmentally. When she learned about Young Athletes, she enrolled Manny immediately. Soon, he was running, kicking a soccer ball, shooting a ball into a little basketball net and swinging a baseball bat. “By learning  to play all the sports he loves," she says, "he’s becoming more coordinated.”

Sign Up for E-News

Throughout 23 countries, Young Athletes helps more than 50,000 children, ages 2 1/2 to 8, with developmental disabilities improve motor skills, eye-hand coordination and social interactions – all while learning a sport.

Young Athletes was developed in 2004 by Westfield resident Ellen Anderson, an associate professor of physical therapy at Rutgers School of Health Related Professions (SHRP), and Special Olympics New Jersey president Marc Edenzon. Its aim is to teach parents how to play sports with their special needs youngsters, as they would with typically functioning children, and to educate them on how focusing on different aspects of play will help their children strengthen athletic skills.

Anderson had been working closely with the American Physical Therapy Association in screening athletes for strength, flexibility and balance at the Special Olympic Summer Games since 1998. “There are a lot of ways that physical therapists can improve children’s gross motor skills. But there weren’t any programs that took sports and broke them down into their components for these children,” Anderson says.

Once Anderson and Edenzon presented the Young Athletes concept to the Special Olympics board of directors, chaired by Tim Shriver, the program was quickly approved. It debuted as a pilot in 11 countries and nine states in 2005, gaining prominence and expanding to more countries after its inclusion at the 2007 Special Olympics World Games in Shanghai.

Seeking ways to promote the Young Athletes program to parents, teachers and representatives in other states, Anderson and her husband, Scott, who works on Broadway productions, designed the Young Athletes Festival, which will debut during the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games, June 14-21, in Lawrenceville. “Delegates from all 50 states’ Special Olympics will be there. The festival will show them what they can do in their own programs,” Anderson says.

The festival -- structured as an amusement park – will feature six tents focusing on specific skills. Activities will be staffed by volunteers and faculty, alumni and students from SHRP’s Doctor of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Assistant programs and are open to all young athletes who register for events.  These include a fun house with wavy mirrors, a “jungle” to encourage children to improve running and walking skills, a mountaintop adventure to practice balance and jumping, and games that focus on throwing, catching, kicking and striking.

The festival also will highlight Young Athletes’ emphasis on traditional sports, including soccer and basketball drills and a motorcross event using no-pedal Strider bicycles. In addition, it will showcase the Young Athletes' developmental sports program, designed to allow children who age out of Young Athletes, and are not yet skilled enough for competition, to continue to develop skills in a traditional sport.

There will be an opporunity for physical therapists to provide input as well. They’ll watch the children play and assess their motor skills for their parents. “For example, there’s a huge difference for these kids developmentally between kicking a stationary ball versus a moving ball,” Anderson says. “Parents don’t always realize this.”

For the Young Athletes Festival, Anderson created “Healthy Young Athletes – Ask the Doc,” to engage a wide range of health care specialists who will circulate through the tents, observe children playing, answer parents questions and provide referral lists. “Most parents know a physical therapist or an occupational therapist because their child is engaged in therapy, but many don’t know how to find a developmental optometrist or dentist who can handle a child with a disability,” she says.

And Young Athletes Festival attendees will surely see Manny, most likely on his Strider bike. “I will be there, telling parents how great Young Athletes has been for Manny to learn social skills and to be introduced to these sports at such a young age,” says Cajigas. “Since traditional recreational programs often don’t start until the child is 5, Manny is getting exposed to so much more than my other children ever did.”

TAP Into Another Town's News:

TAP Into Another Town's News:

Sign Up for E-News


St. Joseph HS Students Shave Heads in Support of Clark Boy with Cancer

December 10, 2016

METUCHEN, NJ - During Saint Joseph High School’s recent Winter Sports Pep Rally, members of the student body volunteered not only their time but also their hair for a classmate and for peers across the country. Students raised over $20,000 and shaved their heads for Saint Baldrick’s, an organization that aids children who have been diagnosed with all forms of cancer.

The event was ...

Synopsis of Westfield Board of Education Meeting & Workshop Dec. 6

December 10, 2016


The Board honored retiring member Ginny Leiz, who has served in many capacities on the Westfield Board of Education, including as President and Vice President.  Prior to the meeting, a reception was held at which administrators, teachers, parents, and friends had the opportunity to thank Mrs. Leiz for her 15 years of service to the Westfield Public Schools.  ...

Westfield Police Blotter: Drug-Related Arrests, DWIs & More

December 7, 2016

November 30, 2016 10:40 a.m.

Officer O’Holla arrested Honnie Graham, age 31, of Plainfield at the Middlesex County Jail for an ATS warrant in the amount of $2,500 out of this jurisdiction.

December 1, 2016 11:21 p.m.

Officer Bagan and Natale arrested Amanda Oskierko, age 26, of Maxim Court, Jackson, NJ, for driving while intoxicated pursuant to a motor vehicle stop in the area of ...

Point View’s David Dietze Presents to Rotary on 'The Psychology of Investing'

December 10, 2016

Point View Wealth Management Founder, President, and Chief Investment Strategist, David Dietze, presented to the Summit - New Providence Rotary on "The Psychology of Investing."

Dietze discussed a few basic rules all investors should follow, which included plenty of diversification, avoiding trend following, and emphasizing facts over opinions, especially those of ...

Learning to Cope with Loss - A Win for Westfield High School Freshmen

While Westfield High School students certainly know how to win, the school’s health educators want them to be prepared for loss as well. Understanding the strain that entering high school could have on teenagers, the WHS Health Department continues to build on its support program for students. 

In addition to a transition program arranged by the WHS Counseling Department, the Health ...

Westfield Area YMCA is Here to Help You Make and Keep Your New Year's Resolutions

It’s that time of year again when millions of Americans are thinking of making New Year’s Resolutions.  The question is…will they keep them?  Studies reveal that only 10% of Americans keep their resolutions for an entire year.  You can change that statistic! 

You can become more active. The hardest thing to do is to get started.  Once started, make ...

Give With Your Heart ... But Use Your Head

It is that most wonderful time of the year when every day becomes a mad scramble to attend parties, meet family obligations, buy gifts and, in between, get work done. The holiday season engenders feelings of nostalgia, hope and gratitude. And, with that, we spend incredible sums of money, sometimes without thinking. Generosity is a virtue, so here are some basic tips on giving to ...

‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales' Captures Old-Fashioned Nostalgia at Shakespeare Theatre

MADISON, NJ – It’s clear the Welsh love to sing as the evening moves on with relatives gathering for Christmas dinner at the Thomas home in Wales.

The play opens with three children and then a chorus singing “In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,” a melancholy tune that conjures visions of Swansea, a village in Wales,  with “fallen snow on ...

Lindabury Hosts Fall Meeting of International Network of Law Firms

The law firm of Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper, P.C., recently played host to the Fall meeting of LEGUS, is an international network of high quality mid-sized law firms located across the globe.  More than 60 firms from across the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East sent senior level representatives to the two-day meeting held at the W Hotel in Hoboken.   ...

Beckerman’s Theory of Everything

Any armchair theoretical physicist knows that Stephen Hawking has pursued a lifelong quest to come up with a Theory of Everything. This all-encompassing theory would tie together general relativity (large scale and high mass galaxies, stars, etc), quantum theory (quantum mechanics, quarks, atoms, subatomic particles), and Newtonian physics (gravity on small bodies, gas laws, electromagnetism) to ...

Family Portraits After the Death of a Family Member

One of the gifts of working in the field of children’s grief support is the support I receive from my family and friends. They always have their eyes peeled for interesting articles that relate to grief and loss. Usually they send the articles to me with a kind note, like “this made me think of you” or “thought you’d be interested in this!”

A few days ago my ...

Female Dog Found in Roselle

This female dog was found at 315 East 1st Ave. in Roselle.  She is currently at the Roselle Police Headquarters. If this is your pet or you know the owner call the Roselle Police at 908-245- 2000. 

Holy Trinity School Spotlight - Kindergarten

At Holy Trinity School, Kindergarten is cool!  In Kindergarten, students learn the fundamental skills necessary to thrive in a school environment. The Holy Trinity Kindergarten is a full-day, faith-based program focused on reading readiness, language development, math, and science concepts.   Students also take part in several special classes each week that include music, library, ...

GWACC (Greater Westfield Area Chamber of Commerce) Invites the Chamber and Community Members to Enjoy a Trip to Pompeii & the Amalfi Coast

GWACC has announced today that it will be visiting irresistible Southern Italy & Amalfi Coast, departing Oct. 11, 2017 and is inviting chamber members, and family and friends of chamber members to join them on this once in a lifetime experience.

Rich in culture and stunning scenery, irresistible Southern Italy is the setting for this breathtaking journey. Enjoy an eight day ...

Boy Scouts Honor TAPinto Founder for Service

December 9, 2016

BRIDGEWATER NJ — The Patriots Path Council of the Boy Scouts of America honored TAPinto founder and publisher Mike Shapiro on Wednesday at its 2016 Toast to Scouting Awards Dinner at the Raritan Valley Country Club.  Shapiro was one of five recipients.

The Patriots Path Council, which serves Central and Northern New Jersey, presents the award to those who exemplify in their daily ...