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West Hempstead Chiefs Soccer Club surprises players with drive-by parade

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With the coronavirus pandemic putting an end to the West Hempstead Chiefs Soccer Club’s spring season, the group found a way to score off the pitch. Volunteers and leaders of the club took part in a drive-by parade at their players’ homes on May 9.

“It lifted people’s spirits, and I think it shows that as a group, we’re connected and we’re a family of TOPSoccer players,” said Lauren Lee, the West Hempstead director for the youth soccer program. “A lot of the players have been in our program for a long time, so it was just nice to say, ‘We’re thinking of you.’”

More than a dozen cars full of volunteers met in the parking lot of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in West Hempstead that afternoon. The group then drove by 16 players’ homes in West Hempstead, Malverne and Franklin Square, holding signs showing their devotion to the team. All of the players received gift bags that included soccer balls, water bottles donated by the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association and candy. Coaches who took part in the caravan shared written messages of encouragement with each player.

TOPSoccer, or The Outreach Program for Soccer, is a community-based training program for young athletes with disabilities. Lee, who helped to launch the local chapter of the program in 2011, said that she and her daughter, Jessica, recognized that families of children with disabilities face a unique challenge during the pandemic.

“Jessica and I were missing out on soccer, and we know that our players were missing out as well,” Lee said. “We wanted them to play on their own and bring a little cheer and sunshine to their lives. It was just such a blessing to see how many volunteers wanted to share this moment with our players.”

The Lees started doing drive-by parades in March to celebrate their friends’ birthdays. Jessica, who was named TOPSoccer’s 2019 regional and national Buddy of the Year by the ENYYSA — an honor given to those who demonstrate patience, understanding and dependability — in December, proposed the idea of doing the same for their players.

“My mother and I have been bummed out about the season being canceled, and we really just wanted to see the kids again,” Jessica, 16, said. “Our goal was to make them happy and try to give back to them what they’ve given us. Just seeing their smiles made it worthwhile.”

Jessica, a junior at Kellenberg High School in Uniondale, added that next year will be her last season with the TOPSoccer program before she starts college at Catholic University, in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2021.

“I’ve had so much fun with this program,” Jessica said. “With everything that’s happening right now, I’m going to try to enjoy this as much as I can.”

The Chiefs Soccer Club is planning to profile its players on the club’s Instagram account, at WestHempsteadtopsoccer.