PEPPERELL -- Laurie Mongelli's 8-year-old son, Mikey, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, loves soccer. But after a few months of playing on a local team, he no longer wanted to go to games or practices.
"I asked him if he'd like to play again if he could play with kids who are more his speed, and he said yes," Mongelli said.
From that answer, Pepperell Soccer Magic was born.
Mongelli founded Soccer Magic, a division of Pepperell Soccer launching next month, that will welcome children who have difficulty participating in other, more competitive divisions.
"They'll be able to get the benefit of participating and feeling like they can be good at something," she said. It's "for kids who don't often get that opportunity in a typical setting."
"It's for anyone who has trouble keeping up, anyone with attention problems, slower reaction times, problems listening to directions, behavioral issues," she explained. "It's not just for kids who have identified issues. Some kids just aren't as quick," she said.
The program is for children ages 5 to 10, and is open to people from area towns as well as Pepperell.
Mongelli hopes the new division will address the problems Mikey had and provide a confidence boost to kids who feel the same way.
"There will be very little focus on skills. It's great for kids who just aren't athletic. I know there are other kids in the same boat," she said.
She presented her concept to the Pepperell Soccer board, which approved it. Now she is working to recruit members before the season starts.
Beginning Sept. 8, Pepperell Soccer Magic will play every Sunday. They will begin with a half-hour of "drills," which Mongelli said will be easy games with the soccer ball. They will then play a one-hour game, with no goalie and no score. Players will rotate every 15 minutes.
She said the format will be similar to that of the existing division for those under the age of six. Participants will play on teams of two or three, so there are never more than six players on the field at any one time.
Mongelli is looking for more children to register in order to have enough players for games.
The division, she said, will be a welcoming, low-pressure environment.
"We're all going to be in the same boat. It's going to be an easy place to come to and not worry about structure. We're going to be flexible," she said.
To sign up for the team, contact Laurie Mongelli at 978-852-4570.
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