Soccer breakthroughs for children with disabilities

Coach Leobardo Cruz has witnessed a lot of amazing breakthroughs on the soccer field over the course of his career.

He is especially proud of the progress over the past year in his soccer training sessions for students with disabilities.

In February 2020, Cruz, the Division II head boys and girls soccer coach at Sacred Heart of Jesus High School in Jackson, started a free practice session on Saturdays for children with disabilities. The soccer session at 3 p.m. on Saturdays lasts an hour.

“It’s 100 percent recreational,” Cruz said of the practice sessions. Due to COVID-19, they also practice social distancing while teaching the fundamentals of soccer.

Coach Leobardo “Leo” Cruz

Their goal is to eventually have enough children to participate so that they can form a team and order shirts. “We started with 8 kids, but then the (COVID-19) virus came about,” said Cruz’s wife, Barbara. They are hopeful that they will reach their goal of signing up more children for their free practice sessions. Children from all over West Tennessee are welcome to participate.

All of the training methodology taught is directly from Nido Águila (or “Eagle’s Nest”), “the official soccer academy for Club América.”  Coach Cruz is very passionate about sharing his love of soccer with all children. Coach Cruz saw the development of a similar program in Mexico for children with disabilities and that inspired him to start a free training program in West Tennessee.

“He just wants to give back to the community,” said Cruz’s wife, Barbara. When Coach Cruz was in his late teens, he played on a professional soccer team in Mexico.

The staff on Cruz’s team are highly trained and experienced in coaching. In addition to Cruz, head coaches in the program include Coach Rogelio Garcia and Coach Briamst Castro.

Recreational activities are essential for so many of our clients at the STAR Center. Kudos to Coach Cruz for providing these training sessions for free! They can work on so many goals: hand-eye coordination, listening, and balance.

It’s a win-win! Hands down, my overall favorite part of watching any championship soccer match is listening to the roar of the announcer as he yells, “Gooooallll!”

To learn more about the practice sessions for children with disabilities, call Barbara Cruz at 731-707-2131 (English) or Coach Leobardo Cruz at 731-616-7565 (Spanish). All ages are welcome.

About the Author : Wendy Mercer

NOTE: This person is a past employee or intern of the STAR Center. Their name and authorship is preserved for posterity. Wendy Mercer joined the STAR Center team in 2017. She is a job placement specialist and coordinator of the STAR Center Business Advisory Group. Wendy earned her master's degree in teaching from the University of Memphis. She received her bachelor's degree in print journalism from Clark Atlanta University. Wendy is a former special education teacher and freelance writer. Wendy is active with several community organizations. She currently serves as vice president of the Jackson Old Hickory Rotary Club.

  1. Alexa Jordan July 29, 2021 at 9:30 pm - Reply

    I love this. I have two sons with disabilities and any way to involve them is heaven sent. I am going to buy some soccer equipment and start running some drills.

    • Wendy Mercer July 30, 2021 at 10:22 am - Reply


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