Roadrunners play soccer with special needs children

Photo courtesy of Rally Cap Sports Ramapo College, Facebook

A new on-campus group helmed by Nicholas Koehler, a junior global communications student, has partnered with the national nonprofit organization RallyCap Sports to enrich the lives of local children with special needs through team sports. Koehler spent a year working with RallyCap’s executive director Luke Sims to bring a chapter of the nonprofit to Ramapo. The group held its first soccer tournament last Sunday, on the lawn in front of the Bandshell.

Koehler, who played sports throughout most of his high school career, was first drawn to RallyCap by its focus on athletics as a community builder.

“I have an autistic cousin,” said Koehler, “and something that really helped him get out of his shell and communicate with people was playing sports.”

RallyCap was founded 27 years ago in Middletown, New Jersey by Paul and Margo Hooker, a married couple who saw a need for organized sports programs providing opportunities for members of the special needs community. Three years ago, Sims helped bring the organization to a national level, working with college students like Koehler to open chapters across the country.

Sims has been impressed by Koehler’s commitment to the nonprofit’s mission: “Nick reached out to us, and we had to decide if he had what it took. He’s been phenomenal.”

Koehler has not worked alone in bringing an inclusive athletic program to Ramapo. His friends and fellow students have joined him in dedicating time to RallyCap, working to spread awareness of the program and staff the events it hosts.

Junior Kevin Kane is the secretary and a founding member of the Ramapo chapter.

“Our goal is to make these children feel special, make them happy and have a positive impact on their lives,” Kane wrote in an online interview conducted by the Ramapo News. “The joy we are bringing to these children is genuinely something to be excited to dedicate our time to.” 

When Koehler first shared his plans with Kane, he quickly agreed to help his friend by arranging meetings between Koehler and student groups on campus.

“I have an aunt who has Down syndrome so I was eager to help out,” he stated, “He brought the idea to my fraternity, ZBT, where he was able to recruit a number of volunteers.”

Koehler met with other Greek groups and several school sports teams, generating interest in his project. Koehler’s efforts appear to have paid off: He estimates student volunteers outnumbered participants at last Sunday’s soccer game 3-to-1, and members of the Ramapo men’s soccer team provided the equipment necessary to host the event.

Koehler hopes the program will continue to grow long after he and his fellow members graduate Ramapo. He is currently taking steps to ensure that happens, by continuing to spread awareness and changing club meeting times to better accommodate busy students’ schedules.

Ramapo RallyCap currently meets at 11-12 p.m. on Sundays in front of the Bandshell. When the weather grows colder, RallyCap will be moved into the Bradley Center’s auxiliary gym. Four weeks remain in this semester’s season; however, next semester’s programming calendar will be twice as long, and Koehler plans to add basketball and baseball to the chapter’s offerings.