Former Parkland player slides over to Buddy role

Josh Kickhoefer, 14, understands what it means to be a buddy. Several years ago, he signed up to play for Parkland Buddy Sports, which is a program that offers special needs children the opportunity to play team sports, with someone assisting them during games.

But Kickhoefer’s situation is quite different than that of the many other participants. After he had been assisted with basketball and soccer for a few years, he overcame his own special needs to make the transition from player to buddy.

“Players deserve respect out there, and as someone who used to be a player, I know how to treat them as a buddy,” said Kickhoefer, who hasn’t allowed his Autism to get in his way of his mission. “I’ve seen over the years—from being a player—that these kids are so deserving of this amazing opportunity.”

Kickhoefer’s unique circumstances yield empathy to those he assists, and he is among the more than 100 volunteers this season.

“It just feels good for both the buddies and players to get out there and have success on the court,” said one of the league’s volunteers, Wendy Zipes-Hunter, of the recently-concluded basketball season. “Everyone looks forward to each game, and it’s wonderful to see them greet one another with big smiles.”

Ryland Clark, 16, who has buddied for five years, couldn’t agree more about the recently concluded basketball season. When Clark initially meets his basketball buddy, he tells them to go out there and have a blast.

“Just have fun while playing, and try your hardest,” Clark said. “I love working with the kids because it makes me feel great to help those who are less fortunate than me. It’s a great way to give back.”

Following its season-ending visit from Miami Heat mascot Burnie, Parkland Buddy Sports’ tennis matches are now underway. In addition, the league has flag football, running, and kickball programs at Terramar Park and John H. Quigley Park.

“The best part is watching the players improve each week; this combines a sports element and the component of peer-to-peer interaction,” Zipes-Hunter said. “It’s really the best way to make a difference in life.”

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