Mike and Kennedy Wilson first met on the soccer field. Playing on opposing teams (Seaford and Delmar) before Delmar had a girls’ soccer team, Mike knocked Kennedy down during a game. Flash forward a few years, they are now married and have two daughters, Freedom and Faith.
Until recently, the Wilson’s didn’t discuss their soccer background with their oldest daughter, Freedom. Freedom was born legally blind, diagnosed with CHEDs2, a rare disorder which little is known about.
The couple didn’t know what their daughter would be able to do and didn’t want to give her false hope. Then one day she woke up and said she wanted to be a soccer goalie.
Mike and Kennedy had run the Contender Academy, a soccer club with 100 kids, before Freedom was born, but they had to step away from it to take care of their daughter.
“We felt like it was a chapter that was never closed,” said Kennedy Wilson.
With Freedom’s desire to play soccer came the rebirth of Contender Academy, which includes the first soccer club for blind and disabled children. The club started out catering to visually impaired students, but it is now open to children with all disabilities.
The group follows Isaiah 40:31 as its main scripture: “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Freedom soared when given the opportunity to play the game she loved, scoring her team’s first goal in her first game with the club.
While the Special Olympics provide opportunities for children with intellectual disabilities, kids with physical disabilities are often left out.
“The most important thing is that we’re feeding their passion to play,” Kennedy Wilson said.
Contender Academy currently has around 30 players with three groups for children with and without disablities: 3-5 year-olds, 5-12 year-olds, and disabled kids ages 6-16. The groups practice separately with each player getting individual attention from instructors/volunteers.
The club will start practicing on Fridays in September on the town of Delmar’s field, across from Delmar Elementary School. They will play indoors during the colder months. The club is sponsored by the Wilsons’ business, Delmarva Performance and Repair.
“Kids with disabilities don’t think this is an option. I know there are other kids out there,” said Kennedy Wilson. “I just want to come out and kick a soccer ball with my kids and invite other kids at a safe and challenging place.”
The group offers a place for families to come where all of the family members can participate in some way.
“For special needs families, it’s a family thing,” Wilson added. “This is a place where kids of all colors, shapes, and sizes can come together.”
Joining the instructors and volunteers is sports fitness trainer Sara Phillips of Fit on the Fly, a strength and conditioning business she recently started. Phillips helps businesses and individuals ignite their training.
“We win kids through sports rather than winning sports through kids,” said Phillips.
Phillips works with Freedom on her posture. She strives to help provide better health for each child and sees no limits for disabled children.
Phillips said the club is looking to develop skills such as body awareness and mechanics that they can use both in sports and in life. Contender Academy focusses on developing soccer skills and life skills more than playing games.
Wilson said the club’s goal down the line is to be accredited with Paralympics and possibly field a blind soccer team in the 2028 Paralympics.
For more information on Contender Academy, visit the club’s Facebook page.