ARHS junior dedicated to making an impact on the world
By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Northborough/Southborough – For Algonquin Regional High School (ARHS) junior Jonny Manousaridis, soccer is more than just a game. It is a lifestyle, a way of life. It is on the soccer field that the rising ARHS soccer captain affects the lives of Special Olympic athletes on Saturday afternoons.
Manousaridis began playing soccer when he was a young boy, taking to the sport with a passion. As the years passed, soccer became more than a sport to the budding athlete.
“I’ve had trouble throughout my life and found that the soccer field is a place where I can be happy and do something productive,” he shared.
Manousaridis is a self-professed dreamer who has always wanted to make an impact on the world. To this end, he became a unified partner for Special Olympics Massachusetts (SOMA) basketball at the age of 10 and has participated in unified sports ever since.
“SOMA has given me a consistent place to volunteer and a consistent source of happiness as well,” Manousaridis said.
SOMA provides year-round sports training, athletic competition and other health-related programming for athletes with intellectual disabilities throughout the state.
As a freshman at ARHS, Manousaridis spearheaded the Northborough-Southborough Unified Recreational Soccer Program. On any given Saturday he coaches a dozen or so kindergarten to fifth-grade athletes. And, while each suffers with a disability – anything from ADHD to social anxiety to Down’s syndrome – all discover success on the field, the rewards reaching far beyond the soccer goal.
Due to the variety of athletes in the unified program, the team is unable to play official games. Still, Manousaridis does his best to schedule recreational games against local teams. And, although they are not officially part of the Southborough Youth Soccer Association (the team meets at Liberty Field in Southborough), the program graciously donates field time and uniforms to the unified team.
“All in all, soccer is important, but my major goal is to make sure the kids have fun and ultimately fall in love with the game like I did,” Manousaridis said.
According to Christine Austvold, mother of player Abby, “Coach Jonny’s” spirited enthusiasm is contagious.
“Abby puts her uniform on as soon as she wakes up on practice days and I have to gently remind her that practice doesn’t start until after lunch,” said Austvold.
“Jonny’s coaching has renewed my son’s enthusiasm in sports,” said Satnam Kandola, father of Harvey. “He gave up on soccer a long time ago – but he is now really enjoying being active!”
Manousaridis said that he has always wanted to be known for doing something special and it seems as if he is doing just that.
“The SOMA soccer program really is a major part of my life, and I feel sets me apart from most kids my age,” he said. “When I can give back to the community in any way, shape or form, it makes me happy. This program in particular is my pride and joy. Coming out every Saturday to play soccer with these amazing athletes truly is the highlight of my week.”
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