Unlike any other program in the area, Sidekicks gives developmentally challenged children a place to get in the game and have fun.
Kevin Norman bounces the ball a few times, his eyes trained on the goal. He cradles the ball in his hands, sizing up the shot. Then he crouches and recoils, sending the basketball in a sweeping arc straight to the basket. Daniel Turner stands at the post and assists the ball through the net. Kevin leaps, fist pumped to the sky. Excitement, jubilation barely describe the enthusiasm Kevin is unable to contain. He acknowledges his adoring fan — his mom Allison seated nearby at a picnic table.
“Basketball is Kevin’s favorite sport,” Turner announced, tossing the ball quickly back to Kevin.
The Sidekicks session only lasts one hour, and Kevin wants to get in as much basketball as he can. So much effort, desire, enthusiasm and excitement — you’d never know that Kevin was any different than most children on a playground.
When Elaine McHugh joined the Sonoma State kinesiology department faculty, a friend warned the former classroom teacher that she would not get to work directly with children anymore.
“I couldn’t let that happen,” said McHugh. “The children are the reason I do this. They are my inspiration.”
Then the adapted physical education coordinator discovered a way to keep contact with the children while filling a need. No P.E. programs for disabled and developmentally challenged children existed in the area at the time. So she started Sidekicks.
After lining up SSU facilities and a way for Sonoma students to volunteer while earning needed community service hours, McHugh contacted area schools and agencies to recruit participants. That was 1996, and the program has been going strong ever since.
“We give the children a way to physically play that they’ve probably never had before,” McHugh said. “They love to come play.”
Sidekicks is held on Saturday mornings during the fall and spring semesters. During each of the three one-hour sessions, one Sidekicks student is paired with an SSU volunteer. Sometimes the child participates in a group activity. Sometimes he or she chooses individual sports.
Turner got involved with Sidekicks in order to fulfill 30 community service hours for his Women and Gender Studies course last spring. A member of the SSU golf team, he chose Sidekicks because it fit his schedule, but admits he got much more from the experience than fulfilling his service hours.
“It made me aware of how lucky I am,” the senior sociology major said. “You have a really good time, and you make somebody’s day a little better.”
Among the other activities Turner and Kevin played together were soccer and bowling. The volunteers let the children determine what to do. Some children choose several sports or leisure activities during the hour; others stick with just one.
Turner concentrated on developing Kevin’s basketball skills.
“He has trouble tracking from left to right,” Turner said. “So we worked a lot on dribbling, moving the ball from his left hand to his right hand.
“At first Kevin had to struggle to make a basket. Then he got better,” Turner said. “I absolutely saw improvement. It was wonderful for the kids and the students.”
Top, Daniel Turner, a Sidekicks volunteer, bounces Kevin Norman on a large ball during one of the Saturday sessions last spring. Above, Turner and Kevin play basketball, and Kevin’s mother Allison watches. Right, Elaine McHugh follows Kevin on the adaptive bike.