Sandy Castillo is undoubtedly one of the most important members of southern California’s soccer community. She has served as Cal South Chair at The Outreach Program for Soccer (TOPSoccer) since 2001 and has been a Coach in the community-based soccer program for players with special needs for almost 40 years.
Her immense work has been recognized many times over the past three decades, including an ADAPTandTHRIVE Disability Award from U.S. Soccer in 2021. Recently, she was nominated for Citizen of the Year in her hometown of Placentia (Placentia Chamber of Commerce Excellence in Business Awards). The 57th Annual Excellence in Placentia Gala takes place on January 27th.
We caught up with Sandy on the back of her nomination to discuss all things TOPSoccer, including how she got started, the current goals of the program, and the upcoming State Cup. As always, she was bursting with energy and zeal as she looks forward to a big 2023 for TOPSoccer.
TOPSoccer in Cal South
Sandy’s enthusiasm, determination, and passion for what she does are awe-inspiring. An athlete for her entire youth, she began coaching in 1985 because of the lack of suitable sports outlets for her daughter. Little did she know, it would become her life’s mission, and that she’d remain dedicated to the cause almost 40 years later.
In 1991, Sandy began working with The Outreach Program for Soccer (TOPSoccer), setting up the first branch in southern California. Today it’s the second oldest TOPSoccer organization with founding members still involved in running the program.
TOPSoccer was born out of a need for additional sports programming outside of the Special Olympics. With support from the JUSA Board, Sandy helped found the first program in southern California and never looked back. It’s been growing and expanding for over 30 years, largely due to the need for the services it provides and the hard work of everyone involved.
Cal South began working with Sandy and TOPSoccer in 2001. It’s an extremely important relationship for Cal South and we encourage our members and partners to get involved in whatever capacity they can, either as volunteers, coaches, or supporters. 2023 is set to be another big year for TOPSoccer so stay tuned to our website for news on upcoming events.
While the program is well-supported, Sandy pointed out that 26% of Americans have a disability of some kind, yet TOPSoccer is still only reaching 5% of this demographic. It’s this type of data that gives her the drive to continue impacting the special needs community.
One area of focus for TOPSoccer in the coming years is the underserved Hispanic demographic in southern California. Cal South aims to work closely with the TOPSoccer to make our sport more accessible to the local Hispanic audience. Both TOPSoccer and Cal South offer programs and certification in Spanish, ensuring equal opportunities to southern California’s diverse population.
TOPSoccer is For Everyone
According to Sandy, a key objective of TOPSoccer is changing the narrative of the program; switching the focus from what it does for kids with special needs to the impact it can have on everyone, including volunteers, buddies, coaches, and spectators. It’s a valuable commitment to list on a college application or resume, demonstrating your willingness to give back and lead by example. With TOPSoccer, you’re forced to learn on the fly and adapt to situations on the field, which translates directly to other situations in life and the professional world.
Sandy spoke of countless occasions when volunteers supported one-off TOPSoccer events, only to fall in love with the players and become long-term devotees. TOPSoccer not only changes the lives of the participating players, but it also enriches the lives of everyone who gets involved.
TOPSoccer’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy means participants don’t disclose their disabilities. This inclusive environment makes sure all players are given the same opportunities. Everyone is asked to do just one thing: give their best on the field. It’s under this ethos that TOPSoccer has managed to grow and thrive in southern California for over 30 years.
“We changed the narrative from, you’re child has to play their best at all times to, your child has to give their best at all times…this allows happiness to radiate all over the field, something that many players never experience.”
As an organization that has been built from the inside, TOPSoccer relies on its members and volunteers to continue its upward trajectory. If you’ve ever considered volunteering or getting involved in a program like TOPSoccer, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Anyone can be a TOPSoccer Buddy: parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, or friends. No experience is necessary. If you want to take it a step further, why not become a coach? It’s easy, and there is a U.S. Youth Soccer TOPSoccer Coaching Certification Course available free of charge.
Cal South TOPSoccer State Cup
The Cal South TOPSoccer State Cup takes place on February 4th, 2023 at Wagner Elementary School in Placentia. This is always an incredibly fun day out. Cal South and TOPSoccer invite anyone who would like to attend, whether you wish to participate or volunteer. You can register as an individual or a team, ensuring there’s a place for everyone.
The event will feature tons of soccer matches, fun games, special guests, food and refreshments, and a medal presentation. We can’t wait to see you there.
Keep an eye out for more details on the TOPSoccer Festival on July 15th, 2023. It’s one of their biggest events of the year and will feature a number of special guests, including professional players from some of California’s biggest teams, as well as “Handsome Henry” the therapy dog.
Dedication to the Game
During our chat, Sandy told us that her ultimate mission is to change just one life for the better. There’s no doubt she’s impacting thousands. She’s living proof that the actions of one can cause a domino effect with virtually limitless potential.
Cal South’s flourishing TOPSoccer program has dedicated members and a full board. The success of the organization and the increasing impact of its courses are down to Sandy’s hard work and leadership.
“You have to fight for what you believe in. You have to be willing to give up everything for what’s important and lose everything for what you do.”
Cal South would like to thank Sandy for her invaluable contribution to our community and wish her the best of luck with TOPSoccer for 2023.