TOP Soccer League in Madera County

FRESNO, Calif.

Each step Victor Hernandez takes on this soccer field is a mini-milestone in his mother's eyes. The 11-year-old has a mental disability that once kept him isolated.

"His confidence was... he didn't want to do anything, he just wanted to stay inside the house, watch TV or play video games. He didn't want to try anything new," said Xochilt Velazquez. But now he's proud to be a part of the new Madera "TOP Soccer League. "TOP" stands for "The Outreach Program."

"He belongs to a team. He is a teammate. He is not an outcast, he is a teammate," said Velazquez.

Patricia Becerra started the program after years of driving her two special needs children to play in the Fresno TOP League. She also realized many other Madera County families needed a place for their kids to get exercise and build self-esteem.

"When I was at the Chowchilla Fair Special Needs Day, I talked to caregivers, teachers, and parents -- and I asked them 'what do special needs kids here do for fun? What kind of sports do they do?' They don't do anything."

Nearly twenty players have now joined the new Madera league which will hold games at the Sunrise Rotary Park Complex every Friday night. Patricia is hoping to recruit at least 80 more.

"The more players I have the more teams I can make, and the more fun it will be for the kids."

The league is open to anyone with mental or physical disabilities from age four and up, including adults. Coach Ana Velazquez says she's already seen her seven-year-old daughter bonding with teammates. "At first she was very nervous and now she's very comfortable with them."

That friendship is one of many "goals" this league hopes to achieve.

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