WAXHAW – As a soccer player at Cuthbertson High School, Samantha Fink did more than help lead the Lady Cavaliers to state playoff semi-final appearances in 2014 and 2015 and to a Rocky River Conference title in 2013. She also made her mark off the field, volunteering with Street Soccer 945, Urban Ministry and Take on Sports.
Fink is doing the same now as a rising senior at Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C. The forward on the Blue Hose women’s soccer team recently organized a one-day soccer camp at Martin Stadium for children with autism.
Stefan Wiecki, a history professor at PC and Fink’s academic advisor, approached her about the idea of the soccer camp.
“I wanted to help out with this camp because there aren’t very many options for people with disabilities to be involved in sports in this area,” Fink said. “My brother has a disability and had the opportunity to participate in sports in my hometown.
“When I heard about the kids wanting to do a camp, I couldn’t help but think of him.”
Twelve children from Project Hope in Greenwood and Bridging the Gap in Greenville attended the camp. Fink recruited players from PC’s men’s and women’s soccer teams to help with the effort.
Fink led the children in soccer drills that she and the Blue Hose soccer players practice themselves. During the passing drill, Fink and the soccer players kicked balls back and forth with the soccer newcomers. Most of the children had never kicked a soccer ball.
The PC soccer players taught the children how to control the ball in the dribbling drill. Some children dribbled the ball from one end of Edens Field all 120 yards to the other end. And, in everyone’s favorite, the children lined up and practiced kicking the ball into the goal.
Teaching the children soccer was one part of the camp. Another important piece was giving the children an opportunity to practice social interactions.
“The soccer camp was their therapy for the day,” said Niki Porter, a case supervisor with Project Hope.
“Some of our families would never take their kid out to a soccer camp because they don’t know what it would be like. This camp was a really cool way for them to practice doing things in a group and for their parents to see that having a soccer camp with a shadow wouldn’t be so bad.”
Each child’s ABA therapist was there to help throughout the day. According to Porter, the children benefited most from listening to Fink and the other players on the soccer teams.
“For them to hear instruction from players is nice because they spend all day with us,” Porter said. “It’s nice for the children to learn from other adults who are teaching them.”
This social interaction helps the children understand they can listen to others when they’re away from the typical ABA setting.
Kathryn Thompson-Feith, a mother of one of the attendees, went to an autism conference recently and heard young adults on the spectrum say over and over how they wished they had more opportunities for social interactions.
“They all said they figured out the academics, but still didn’t know how to interact with people,” Thompson-Feith said. “I am very grateful and excited that PC has been not only willing to try but was excited and enthusiastic to welcome the children to campus.”
Fink enjoyed organizing the camp and helping the children with their soccer and social skills.
“It was a joy to give these kids an opportunity to play a sport that’s so close to my heart,” she said.