SADDLE BROOK, N.J. — A 6-year-old boy wearing a hearing aid and a blue striped shirt darted back and forth across the Avon Park field, lacrosse stick in hand, on Saturday.
That the young athlete, Rodrigo, cradled and dropped the ball time and time again didn't seem to matter to the two Saddle Brook girls varsity lacrosse players keeping pace and sharing words of encouragement with him.
The boys and girls varsity teams, along with the cheer squad, had come out to the first day of spring practice for the Saddle Brook Angels with one goal in mind.
"We want to give back," said girls lacrosse coach Sharon DiGiovanna, whose two teenage nephews have autism. "That's the most important thing to us."
Saddle Brook's James and Monica Maniscalco launched the Angels soccer program in 2012 as a place where their adolescent daughter with special needs could thrive.
The pair has added lacrosse and cheerleading programs to the curriculum for anyone between ages 5 and 16, regardless of their disability.
The field on Saturday was peppered with pairs of high school athletes and young players with special needs.
Some of the youngsters could proficiently pass the ball. Others preferred to hang out between goal posts or mingle with other children.
Athletes remained by their sides.
"It teaches our players responsibility and the importance of community service" Saddle Brook boys lacrosse coach Matthew Meade said. "We want our work to go past the playing field.
"We want to make an impact on the community."