Elijah Thomas always had a thing for soccer. But with cerebral palsy that keeps him mostly in a wheelchair, the 11-year-old never had the opportunity until now.
On a recent sweltering evening Elijah — with the help of some University of Florida volunteers — kicked ball after ball into a goal.
Elijah is one of dozens of disabled Alachua County children and young adults who have found their feet through the TOPSoccer program run by the Gainesville Soccer Alliance.
“Elijah has wanted to play for four years now. This is all he wants to do now,” said his grandmother and guardian, Kathy Thomas. “This is his favorite thing. He gets so excited that you’d think he would fall asleep on the way home, but all the way home he keeps thanking me.”
TOPSoccer stands for The Outreach Program for Soccer and was created by the US Soccer Youth Association as a way to get disabled youngsters involved in the game.
Patti Atchison, an officer with the Gainesville Soccer Alliance, started the program locally last year. The alliance is a nonprofit organization that runs soccer teams and built fields at Alachua County’s Jonesville Park, which is where TOPSoccer is played on Friday evenings.