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Submitted Photo

Civic Green Special Athletes Logan Mayer, left, and Tori Eccleston, and CGSA Chair Joe Hunter, present a plaque to Whitemarsh Township Police Officer Stephen Cline, left, and Corporal Michael Burton to thank the department for its recent "gold level" donation to the Civic Green program.

Big ticket events like ongoing French Open tennis and June 7-July 7’s Women’s World Cup in Paris may be scoring global sports headlines. But members and fans of this area’s Civic Green Special Athletes are just as excited about their June 8 end-of-season picnic and BBQ at Miles Park in Lafayette Hill.

The 2-6 p.m. get-together was planned to celebrate the group’s 2018-19 season — its players, fans, volunteers and donors — and attract even more participation in 2019-20.

“This is for everybody — all the members and supporters of Civic Green, or anybody interested in becoming a member or supporter,” says Joe Hunter, the Plymouth Meeting man who laid the groundwork for the group roughly a decade ago. “We’re a non-profit organization, so we absolutely depend on donations to keep things running, and we’re grateful for anything people are able to give.”

Civic Green sponsors nearly year-round sports events, field trips, holiday parties and other social gatherings for physically and mentally challenged youths at minimal or no cost. Participants generally range from 4 to 20-something. Home base is Plymouth Whitemarsh High School’s football stadium August through November and Greater Plymouth Community Center January through June. The group also has continuing volunteer relationships with Whitemarsh Lions Club and Norristown Dragon Boat Club.

Civic Green evolved from the TOPSoccer team (part of U.S. Youth Soccer’s “community-based training and team placement program for young athletes with disabilities”) that Hunter spearheaded 10 years ago. The local TOPS program is now overseen by Colonial Soccer Club, formerly Plymouth Soccer Club.

Hunter was PSC president at the time and although he’s not the parent of a child with special needs, his experience as a coach convinced him such a program was needed to fully serve area youths who were interested in soccer. The original TOPS team debuted with eight players but has expanded well beyond, and its roster includes athletes whose diagnoses run the gamut from autism and visual impairment to Down syndrome and multiple sclerosis.

As Hunter explains, “No one is turned away.”

That includes players with mobility issues that require wheelchairs, walkers or braces.

In the end, TOPS became so popular, Hunter and fellow volunteers created Civic Green Special Athletes to provide sports and social activities during the months following the traditional fall soccer season. Given its obvious success, GPCC assigned a staffer to help run Civic Green events earlier this year.

“Everything’s going great,” says Hunter, who heads the non-profit’s executive board. “The (recreation programmer) at the community center has been terrific, and we plan to keep going forward whether we have two or 200 (participants). The kids involved have such a great time, and it’s a great way for the parents to network and support each other.”

Civic Green corporate donors include Kohl’s, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Thorp Bailey Weber Eye Associates, Ally Construction Services, P&I Auto Parts, Kay Lighting, Whitemarsh Police Department and, individually, the Fisher and McHenny families. In addition, volunteer “Emily Koval held a winter talent palooza and raised over $1,300,” Hunter notes.

The organization’s executive board also consists of Gabriella Seiders, Heather Mayer, Stephen Cline and Pat Burke.

“Right now, we’re looking for a recording secretary, and we could really use somebody who’s good with technology to keep our website up-to-date,” Hunter says.

Prospective volunteers for either spot can reach him at civicgreenpresident@gmail.com.

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