Eye of the Tiger

Kyle Barnes helps young athlete overcome disabilities

MEGAN HUBER

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According to the National Federation of State High School Association, “Effective coaching runs deeper than wins and losses. It also includes reaching athletes on an individual level.” Senior Kyle Barnes has learned how true this statement is during his time coaching his buddy and close family friend, Ryder Rudgers, in the art of soccer.

This coaching opportunity requires Barnes to meet Rudgers at his developmental level, but it has also created a lasting friendship that has fuels Rudgers’s success as a soccer player.

Rudgers has cerebral palsy and autism, which can make it difficult for him to move around as fluidly as his peers. However, Barnes and Rudgers both play soccer together, through an organization called TOPSoccer, also known as The Outreach Program, which aims to provide the chance for anyone who has a mental or physical disability to learn and practice skills, but also allows them to enjoy playing the game of soccer. The program sets up seasons for play, each having 5 sessions that allow the opportunity to play in either a full game, or one-on-one with a buddy

Rudgers’s mom, Elisa Rudgers, feels that playing soccer has improved more than just Ryder’s soccer skills. It has also had a positive impact on his emotional health, as well.

“He would have…meltdowns, he would cry, he would not want to participate, or he would just want to be on a ginormous soccer ball and roll upside down. And he couldn’t run either,” Elisa said. “Now, he’s actually running…he can hit the ball with his head. He can run from point A to point B. He can focus long enough to get done what they need to get done.”

(COURTESY / KYLE BARNES)
Rudgers was recognized for overcoming his disabilities with Barnes.

Barnes is grateful for the time he gets to spend with Ryder and the determination his friend shows whenever they play together.

“He’s always wanting to learn new things and he’s always really improving his game every session that we go in. He went from having trouble running and walking to now he’s full sprinting and he’s really enjoying the sport and enjoying the time out here,” Barnes said.

Ryder feels that Barnes’ patience has been a blessing during the time both boys spend mastering the sport.

“Kyle has an incredible amount of patience. It might come from his upbringing. It might be because we know each other so well. It might be from observing…other people around him. He has that ability. And it’s really hard to find,” Rudgers said.

On top of patience, Rudgers believes there is something special about Barnes.

“Kyle is an extraordinary human and by extraordinary I mean..he always does that little bit of extra.  He just paid attention a little bit more than anybody else would and he notices things that other people might not notice.  He has been an inspiration to my son. It’s nice to have a positive and inspiring role model to work with on a regular basis.”

As those who have had opportunities to serve others, it is said that the one who gives is the one that truly receives. Barnes recognizes that spending time with Ryder and helping him is a continual reward.

“Just to see the enjoyment of him being out there and enjoying the sport and many others.  It just always brings me back,” Barnes said.

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