The Nassau County Police Activity League honored Robert Pope, of Merrick, at its third annual fundraising gala, held on May 5 at the Chateau Briand in Carle Place. Along with five local volunteers, Bausch was added to the 2017 roll of NCPAL Heroes for his dedication to the organization’s Special Needs Unit.
Pope began his involvement with the unit shortly after it formed in 1984. His son, Matthew, 34, has Down Syndrome and, at the time, there were no specific opportunities for individuals with special needs to get involved in athletics.
“When you have a handicapped child, you’re constantly looking for programs for them,” Pope said. “They’re abilities are not up with the regular students. They are kind of isolated.”
Pope wanted to give his son the same athletic opportunities other children had. He extended this goal toward other families when he started working with the NCPAL. When its Special Needs Unit was formed it only offered basketball, but additional sports have been added throughout the years of its operation. Since its inception, Pope has coached basketball, flag football, bowling and golf to individuals with special needs.
Pope said that the most rewarding part of his volunteer work is seeing the growth and transformation of the individuals involved in the program. When Matthew started playing “[he] could barely dribble and now he could run up and down the court,” Pope said.
He added that individuals like Matthew could sometimes be loners because they haven’t been given many opportunities for socialization. “But bringing them together in these environments, after a while you see a different group of people.”
Also honored at the May 5 gala was Douglas Bausch, of the Bellmore PAL, Thomas Kelly of the Farmingdale PAL, Lester Petracca, of the Manhasset PAL, and Christopher Quinn of the Wantagh-Seaford PAL.
Doug Bausch, of North Bellmore, has been involved with the NCPAL for roughly 23 years, retiring as president of the Bellmore PAL in February. He began his involvement by stepping up as a soccer coach when his two daughters were playing and volunteers were needed. Bausch has been playing soccer since junior high school and currently plays for the MasterCard corporate soccer league. He wanted to give his daughters an opportunity to play and thought, with his experience, he was the perfect candidate to coach them.
After his daughters aged out of the NCPAL, Bausch continued to coach and eventually took over as the unit's soccer commissioner. “It was rewarding to introduce kids to the sport,” he said. From 2008 through 2015, Bausch served as the director for PAL soccer clinics and the First Kicks Soccer program.
Bausch said that he still sees the rewards of his volunteer experience when he runs into adults who he coached as children and are, perhaps, interested in enrolling their children in a NCPAL program.
Individuals could begin playing a sport in the Special Needs Unit at the age of seven and there is no age at which they must stop playing. The NCPAL operates 28 units in 40 communities and provides individuals opportunities to participate in a variety of athletic and creative programs.