Westfield Winners Offers Team Soccer Experience for Kids with Special Needs

Players and volunteers learn from a trainer about soccer at a Westfield Winners session. Credits: Sergio Vera
Westfield Winners volunteers. Credits: Sergio Vera

WESTFIELD, NJ — Westfield Winners, now in its ninth season, provides a team soccer experience for 35 Westfield kids with special needs.

There are more than 100 volunteer soccer buddies ages 12-18 who work with the kids, usually two buddies per player. The Westfield Soccer Association (WSA) absorbs the full cost of the program as a community service.

The program was originally organized by Sergio Vera and Steve Aronson, who had coached their own children together, when the WSA was approached by the parent of a Westfield child with special needs.

Sign Up for E-News

“We’re here to serve the entire community,” Aronson said, “so Sergio and I researched how we could best serve this segment of the population. What we discovered is what kids with special needs think of soccer may be different, but soccer is what you make it to be.”

By researching other special needs programs that existed in nearby towns and talking with teachers and parents, Vera and Aronson were able to put a plan together. They knew they would need plenty of supervision and a field that was fenced in. They wanted the kids to know that they were part of a team, and they came up with the name Westfield Winners. They reached out to older kids playing soccer through the WSA to recruit volunteers to work with the program.  A pilot program began in December 2014, with 12 participants and about 25 buddies, and has evolved over time.

“For the first few seasons, it was whatever the kids wanted to do. If that was dribbling a soccer ball alone, kicking it back and forth or even sitting in the grass, we knew they were getting something out of it,” said Vera, who currently runs the program.

Then they started working with trainer John Gardner.

“He set up stations that the kids could rotate through,” Vera said of Gardner. “He’s gotten the kids to do things we didn’t think they could do. They’re playing together with the help of their buddies.”

Gardner, who has been with the WSA since 1993, also runs the Westfield Fun of Soccer program. He works to ensure that the coaches and buddies involved are teaching the kids soccer through modeling and practice.

“We want to keep this program moving in a positive direction; we’re always looking for new participants, new volunteers and new suggestions,” said Gardner, who knows that there is also success in the program is it is now.

 “It’s clear that the participants are having fun being part of this program," he said. "But it’s also been a good experience for everyone involved.”

Westfield Winners offers a positive experience not only for the kids with special needs who are now able to participate in soccer, but their older buddies as well.

“I’ve learned that kids with special needs aren’t to be underestimated,” said volunteer Jared Greenspan. “I started volunteering because I thought it would be a good avenue to give back. I’ve been coming for three years, and I genuinely have fun and love seeing the kids have fun.”

More than 75 percent of the volunteers have been working with the Westfield Winners for two or more seasons.

"The thing that I love about it is that our volunteers often start to fulfill obligations and they’re still with us years later," Gardner said. "It speaks volumes about the quality of this program. The Westfield Winners is successful because of the kids who volunteer.”

Kevin Li has also been volunteering for a few years. He said, “I’m not only helping these kids, but I’m having fun.” Li tends to “bounce around” and enjoys the experience of working with different kids every week.

To ensure that the program runs smoothly, Vera has several experienced buddies serve as “Lead Soccer Buddies,” who arrive early to each session to set up and check the kids in. Once registration is complete, the Lead Buddies walk around to make sure things are going well and everyone is having fun.

“Soccer is important to me and I wanted to share it," said Lead Buddy and Westfield High School senior Will Rackear. “The kids who come to the program are awesome, and this is an opportunity for us to all make an impact on these kids’ lives.”

Tom Passante, whose son Ryan participates in Westfield Winners, said that Ryan loves the program.

“It teaches the kids soccer and teamwork, keeps them active, and is a great social outlet for them," he said. "The volunteers are all amazing – they make it fun and they’re very patient.”

Jared Ash’s son Benji has been on the Westfield Winners for several years.

“The spirit of support here is why Benji loves it; the volunteers match the kids at their own pace. It’s great for the kids who want to play soccer but can’t keep up with other programs because they might get easily distracted or overwhelmed. The aspect of differentiation and the patience the volunteers have for these kids allows for success,” said Ash.

Suzanne Vedder had nothing but compliments for the buddies who consistently work with her son Seamus.

“The volunteers are so engaging, and will work with the kids’ strengths," she said. "JT and Will are amazing with Seamus, and he is excited to be here. And this program helps build the empathy for the neurotypical kids.”

Kristin Williams, whose daughters Caitlin and Sophie volunteer for Westfield Winners, agreed.

“They’re learning how to interact with all different children, and it’s an opportunity for them to share their love for soccer,” Williams said.

Tina Valentine’s son Sam has been a part of Westfield Winners since its inception. He started in the town’s Fun of Soccer program, but Valentine says it just wasn’t a good fit for Sam, and she was happy to enroll him in Westfield Winners.

“This is perfect for him and it gives him confidence,” Valentine said.

Sam, who is 9, agreed.

“Westfield Winners is a really, really, really awesome experience," he said. "I like working with all the different people, and learning offense and defense, but playing goalie is my favorite.”

To learn more about Westfield Winners, click here to visit their website

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Buy a Vet ... Program Helps Formerly Homeless Veterans

May 21, 2018

UNION COUNTY, NJ — It started with a collection to help fund a Memorial Day barbecue at the Valley Brook Village veterans facility in Lyons, NJ. When the bucket collection raised $7,000 at John's Meat Market in downtown Scotch Plains, they decided to keep it going and had barbecues all summer. The program has grown ever since.

Steve Hackenberg, a Scotch Plains native, ...

Important Information from the Westfield Board of Health

May 21, 2018

To the Editor:

The Westfield Board of Health held a meeting on May 7, 2018.  

The Board discussed bicycle safety. As the weather improves and more people get outside we encourage all bicycle riders to wear properly fitted helmets. All riders under the age of 17 are required to wear a helmet under state law. Bicycle safety information for children can be found at ...

Upcoming Events


Tue, May 22, 6:30 PM

TD Bank Ballpark, Bridgewater

Somerset Patriots vs. Sugar Land Skeeters ...

Arts & Entertainment Food & Drink Sports


Tue, May 22, 7:00 PM

Westfield Municipal Building, Westfield

Westfield Town Council Meeting



Tue, May 22, 7:30 PM


Westfield Board of Education Meeting


Westfield Police Blotter: Counterfeit $100 Bills, Man Arrested in Car Burglary & More

May 16, 2018

May 8, 2018 2:23 p.m.

A business in the 200 block of East Broad Street reported receiving payment for services with a counterfeit $100 bill. The suspect made a small purchase with the counterfeit bill and received change, depriving the business of $94.24 change and $5.26 purchase. Suspect described as a black male 25-40 years of age, with facial hair wearing a black Nike wind breaker jacket ...

Westfield Area Y Flyers Track Club Takes First Place in 13 Events at NJ Striders Meet

May 22, 2018

FAIR LAWN, NJ - The Westfield Area Y Flyers Track Club took home 13 first place finishes and set eight team records at the NJ Striders Meet last weekend.

Jasmine Parran (7-8)              1500m Run                 6:32.70            1st ...

Ask Maria: How can I help my son? 

Q: My son's best friend's mom just passed away. I am concerned for my son and don't know what to do for him. He is distraught. How can I help my son? 


Grief is a normal and natural reaction to the death of a loved one. No two people grieve the same, even in the family. I am certain that your son’s friend and mom are like family to your son. Losing his ...

17 Homes Sold week of May 6 to May 13 2018 in Cranford, Westfield, Mountainiside, Fanwood and Scotch Plains

Seventeen homes sold week of May 6 to May 13, 2018, in Cranford, Scotch Plains, Westfield,  Mountainside and Fanwood:*



Dog Missing from Fanwood Home

UPDATE: Reunited with owner!

ORIGINAL POST: Lexi was seen north side of Fanwood Thursday. She's 25 lbs., tall and looks like a fox.

Lexi is friendly and was wearing a collar with a tag. Call 732-259-5570 if you spot her.

IRS Grants Relief for Taxpayers Affected by Reduction of Maximum Deductible HSA Contributions

The IRS recently announced relief for taxpayers with family coverage under a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) who contribute to a Health Savings Account (HSA).


For 2018, taxpayers with family coverage under an HDHP may treat $6,900 as the maximum deductible HSA contribution.


The annual amount had been reduced to $6,850 for 2018 under the Tax Cuts and Jobs ...

TAPinto Featured Franchisee: Steve Lenox of TAPinto Paterson

This week's feature will focus on TAPinto Paterson's franchisee, Steve Lenox. Find out how the current owner of a public affairs firm went from a former State Director for Senator Frank Lautenberg to a proud TAPinto franchisee for New Jersey's third largest city.


Q. When did you join

I joined in September, ...

Eight Westfield Student Vocalists Accepted into 2018-2019 All-State Choruses

Eight student vocalists from Westfield High School have been accepted into the 2018-2019 All-State Choruses.

Performing with the 2018 All-State Mixed Chorus in November will be Charlotte Geary, Zachary Lemberg, Joseph Maldonado, Vincent Mora, Nicole Player, and Matthew Siroty. The Mixed Chorus will perform at the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) Convention in November and at the New ...

‘Chambers USA 2018’ Recognizes John Schmidt Among List of America’s Leading Lawyers for Business

Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper is pleased to announce that John H. Schmidt has once again been recognized by “Chambers USA” in their annual list of leading lawyers for business. Chambers and Partners, which produces “Chambers USA,” is a client referral organization that researches and subjectively ranks attorneys and law firm practice groups nationwide ...

'Turning Off the Morning News' brings comic twist

‘Turning Off the Morning News’ tackles today’s issues with a comic twist

By Liz Keill

PRINCETON, N J – Despite the late night comics, no one quite captures the insanity of the political/social status world like Christopher Durang.

His latest play, “Turning off the Morning News” hit the ground running.  John Pankow as Jimmy addresses the audience, ...

SURVIVING A STROKE: Quick Medical Response Gives Mom Her Life Back

Carotid artery dissection. It’s one of the most common causes of stroke in younger adults.

And while you might not associate the word “stroke” with younger patients, the condition – if not treated immediately – could lead to paralysis and even death.

Lindsey Singh can attest to the importance of immediacy. The 31-year-old mother of two from Flanders experienced ...

Capitalist or Communist?

Karl Marx may have been the pioneer, but many other Jews were also involved in the struggle for communism, particularly in the early days of the Russian revolution. Personally, I don’t think that we have any apologies to make for this phenomenon. Having suffered unbearably under successive oppressive regimes, many of those political activists genuinely thought communism would be better ...

Stocks Can Rise in a Rising Interest Rate Environment

Investors remain concerned about the potential impact of higher interest rates on stocks. In their most recently released minutes, the Federal Reserve Open Markets Committee indicated the US economy is on solid footing and the economic conditions warrant continued gradual increasing of interest rates. This set off a sale in the stock and bond markets as investors began pricing in a fourth ...


AtlantiCast: Episode 15

On this week’s AtlantiCast, learn some important tips for controlling and avoiding diabetes from an Atlantic Health System expert, see how Atlantic Health is advancing cutting-edge research, hear what’s being done to keep health care environmentally friendly and much more!



Donn A. Snyder, 88, died at home on May 8 in Southern Shores, NC, where he was a resident for ...
Read more

Suspect Charged in Fatal North Plainfield Hit-and-Run Fled Country, Prosecutor Says

May 22, 2018

NORTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – A 36-year-old suspect charged in the hit-and-run death of a pedestrian May 15 has fled the country, according to Somerset County Prosecutor Michael H. Robertson.

Charges have been filed against Mario Infante, age 36, of New Street, Plainfield, following an investigation by detectives from the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office and North Plainfield ...