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New Canaan Teachers Start 'Sports Buddies' For STAR

Jack Piscitell of Weston with Josh McDonald, one of the co-founders of Sports Buddies.
Jack Piscitell of Weston with Josh McDonald, one of the co-founders of Sports Buddies. Photo Credit: Contributed
Sports Buddies Jimmy, Kameron and Ellie relax between activities.
Sports Buddies Jimmy, Kameron and Ellie relax between activities. Photo Credit: Contributed
Oliver works on improving his shots as his volunteer buddy and coach look on
Oliver works on improving his shots as his volunteer buddy and coach look on Photo Credit: Contributed
Floor exercises with Sports Buddies are fun.
Floor exercises with Sports Buddies are fun. Photo Credit: Contributed
Howie Berg, a Sports Buddies co-founder, meets one of the participants.
Howie Berg, a Sports Buddies co-founder, meets one of the participants. Photo Credit: Contributed

NEW CANAAN, Conn. -- Two New Canaan public school teachers have partnered with Star, Inc., Lighting the Way to provide a weekly recreational exercise and athletics program for young people with developmental disabilities.

Sports Buddies was created by Howie Berg and Josh McDonald and meets at New Canaan High School on Saturday mornings from 9-10 a.m. Program participants play recreational games while working together with volunteer “Sports Buddies” who encourage them and help them to build skills.

Many of the buddies are special education teachers or advisors, while others are students and adults in the community. They work with the students on skills like teamwork, general exercises, stretching, running, calisthenics, group play, skill development such as shooting, dribbling, arm and leg movements, and pick-up basketball games.

Pparents often stay during Sports Buddies sessions to watch, volunteer or network with other parents.

Patricia Clendenin of Darien, is the mother of Joseph, a 21- year old Sports Buddies participant with Down Syndrome. “This program is very much in demand. We found many activities were no longer available to Joseph once he reached age 21, so this program was just terrific.’’ Clendenin said. “The kids make new friends and really enjoy working with the “buddies” by playing one-on-one or in a group … and Howie is so welcoming and accommodating. We took to this program right away.”

“There was a need for this program,” Berg said. “Many kids play or have practices on Saturday mornings. Their parents often do, too. We felt these kids should be able to enjoy playtime and athletics, too. We wanted to give them a venue.”

“Sports Buddies is a terrific program. It changes lives – not just the young people who attend, but also the families, coaches and volunteers,’’ said Katie Banzhaf, Executive Director of STAR. “We have known about it for quite some time and are pleased to work with Howie and Josh. There is definitely a need for this type of a program and we are glad to be able to help fulfill it. When Howie contacted us, we were immediately interested.”

Sports Buddies is one of several programs STAR offers for young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. STAR also offers numerous recreational opportunities for people over age 16 such as movie nights, sports activities (such as outings to baseball and hockey games), garden club, music club, dances, exercise groups and more.

Also, STAR assists students transitioning from high school to their first job in the community and supports them with volunteer opportunities, residential options and future planning to help them live more independently.

STAR, Inc., Lighting the Way is a not–for-profit organization established in 1952 to serve individuals of all ages who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as providing support services to their families.

STAR serves over 600 individuals from birth through their senior years in New Canaan Darien, Wilton, Weston, Westport and Norwalk.

For more information about volunteering for Sports Buddies or about STAR, contact Megan Johnson at mjohnson@starinconline.com or (203) 846-9581 x339 or sign up online at www.STARct.org.

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