SPARTA, NJ-The Sparta Elks club recently announced  former mayor Gil Gibbs will be the Grand Marshall of the annual Fourth of July parade, an honor that appears to run in the family.  Last year Gibbs' mother was the Grand Marshall of the parade in his hometown of Ridgefield Park.  His father had the title twenty years ago. 

The Elks also named Gibbs  Distinguished Citizen of the Year.  He was invited to attend the Elks Club Lodge 2356 Changing of the Guard meeting, at which he received this award.  Gibbs  was recognized for his community activism and his involvement with TOPSoccer.  Sparta Elks' first female Exalted Ruler Evelyn Alfanso, her husband Anthony Alafnso and Peter Appaluccio presented Gibbs with a plaque at the Town Council meeting.

The Outreach Program for Soccer is a community-based soccer program for young athletes with physical and mental disabilities that provides a safe and fun environment for their child to participate in organized sports according to the organization's published information. 

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GIbbs and Shauna Stanley brought this state- wide initiative to Sparta four years ago, after having received an email about the program.  At the time they were President and Vice President of the Sparta Soccer Club.  In Sparta this program pairs a special needs athlete with a buddy.  The buddies are high school students who volunteer their time to teach and mentor the athletes for the six week season.  They must go through a five week training program before they can participate with the athletes.

"It's really incredible to see these high school students give up there Saturday afternoons to help these kids," said Gibbs.  Each year he and Stanley reach out to the Sparta Soccer Club players for volunteers but most have returned for all four years they are in high school.  "This year there will be a big turn over with so many of the kids graduating," said Gibbs.  "We'll need a lot of new kids to be buddies in the fall."

The athlete's parents are not allowed to coach.  "This is their chance to take a deep breath and relax, enjoy watching their kids play," Gibbs said.

They play a six week season at the Field House, receiving support from the Elks Club, Eastern Propane, and Charles Mc Givney of the Mc Givney and Kluger law firm.  The Kiwanis each year provides a barbecue for all involved in the program.  The Elks not only provide financial support but throw a Halloween Party for them as well.   

There are adult instructors as well.  Natalie Neuschatz, Kathy Romine, Susan Lorentz, together with Gibbs and Stanley, work with the 25 athletes.  The athletes range in age from five to 16.  The younger players do drills each week progressing through a more challenging program as their ability grows.  The older player play actual soccer games.

"We don't do it for the recognition.  It's a great program," said Gibbs.

For anyone interested in the program they can contact Gibbs directly; or 973-670-7217