CULLMAN – On Saturday morning Sheriff Matt Gentry and his deputies from the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office found themselves caught in an overwhelming incident at Heritage Park. Even through the coordinated efforts that come from all the team training that CCSO deputies do, they were simply no match for the threat they faced. Sometimes you just have to face the facts: they may be great at law enforcement, but soccer’s a whole other thing.
Gentry and 15 CCSO deputies joined with the American Youth Soccer Organization’s (AYSO’s) local VIP (Very Important Players!) team for its third annual exhibition match, to kick off the season for Cullman’s special needs soccer team.
The VIP team is coached by Brandy Thomas and Janice Edelman.
Thomas shared a little about her team. “This is Cullman’s only special needs soccer team, and we play every year, and we also play against other VIP teams. We’re always adding, so it’s constantly changing. We (recently) added, I think, two new in north Alabama; so we’re up to four or five in north Alabama.
“This is my third year as coach and administrator of VIP, and this is actually the fourth year for the VIP soccer program here. This is our third annual exhibition game; we call it an exhibition, because this is our first game of the year. We get to show off our skills, and the cops come out here and do what they do best, and give support to the kids.
“My co-coach is Janice Edelman. She allows me to coach these kids, and she keeps them safe and happy, and I could not do one thing without her. And we also have buddies that are out on the field, for our kids that need a little extra protection, a little extra focus: Makenzie, Brison, Abby and Addie. They are my lifeline. They give these kids out here the chance to play, that would not ever have an opportunity. I couldn’t do it without them.”
Thomas shared the history of the exhibition game.
“I just started thinking about things, and how to promote; and so I knew if I got the media involved, and got someone that was respectable in the community involved, that the rest of it would take care of itself. And it has; we get bigger and bigger every year.”
Sheriff Gentry added, “This’ll be our third game. The family and the soccer team reached out to us and said, ‘Hey, we want to play the sheriff’s office!’ and we said, ‘Hey, let’s do it! We’ll have a good time with it.’
“These kinds of events are very special to us. You know we do our special needs rodeo, and usually have about 1,100 children that attend that. It just gets down to the heart of all the deputies here. You can see how many deputies we have here today: it’s all volunteer, and they just love to show up and play with the kids.”
The match began with a liberal amount of all-in-fun, family-friendly trash talk between the competitors, as they sized each other up across the midfield line. But when play started, it was almost all VIP: the deputies struggled so much, it looked at times like they actually wanted their opponents to win. In the end, multiple scorers allowed VIP to celebrate a decisive 10-3 victory over the CCSO.
Afterward, the fierce competitors became friends once again; coming together for high fives, hugs and a combined team picture.
“I don’t have any kids that are special needs,” said Thomas, “but these are my kids, and they are fantastic! They’re wonderful kids, and I love them, and I hope to grow every year. I hope to get so big that I have two VIP teams. It is fantastic!
For more information, visit Cullman AYSO’s website www.cullmanayso.org, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cullman.ayso.