The American Youth Soccer League's Very Important Players, or VIP, program is all celebrating its players abilities. For people with mental or physical disabilities who can't play on mainstream teams, the VIP program gives them the opportunity to be a part of a team.
"It gives them a chance to have a team experience and actually participate in a sport as opposed to being stuck on the sidelines," said Jenny Harp, who started the VIP program for Mid-Michigan. "Because there really isn't many programs out there that give them the opportunity."
Jenny Harp and her husband Michael created the VIP soccer team because of their nine-year-old son Mason, who has autism.
"We had attempted to put our son on a regular mainstream team and it just wasn't working for him at all," said Jenny. "So that was our motivation and drive to find something for him to do."
Now the team has grown to nine players. Parents say they're thankful their kids have the opportunity to participate.
"She's really excited about being in soccer and getting to do what her others brothers and sisters get to do," said Tabitha Cassel, whose daughter plays on the VIP team. "It's been a great experience for us."
The VIP program is the first of its kind in the region, and the Harps hope to build the program to reach even more kids.
"We want to celebrate your children, no matter what their physical or mental disability is," Jenny said. "They are welcome. You are welcome. We want you to feel like you're accepted."
And that's what they say the program is all about -- accepting kids for who they are, and having fun.
The VIP program serves players in Lansing, Charlotte, Grand Ledge, Potterville, and Eaton Rapids. The team is going on a break for the summer but will start practice back up this fall.
The Harps really want to get the word out there to encourage more kids to sign up to play, and to also reach out for more volunteers. All the information to register or to volunteer is on WILX.com - just click on the Hot Button. Or visit http://www.ayso176.org.
Organizers are able to dramatically reduce the cost of participation for VIP players, thanks to local sponsors like Molten, Score Sports, and Team One Chevy in Charlotte.