For the Love of the Game: Across the Spectrum and State Lines

Columbus Eagles defender Sheryl Shope has played soccer across the nation for 27 years, but her biggest goal: bring the love of the game to kids on the spectrum.

By Olivia Carnevale
June 18, 2022 at 1:30 p.m. ET

A beaming smile radiates off a child as she kicks her first ball into the net and she is met with a
circle of her peers gathering, cheering her on, their excitement matching hers.

These are regular scenes for Columbus Eagles defender Sheryl Shope. Her soccer clinics allow other Eagles players, volunteers and parents to get involved, and are an opportunity for kids on the autism spectrum with the chance to learn soccer and celebrate their successes together.

“I showed another kid a move and they got it down pretty quickly and they kept doing it over and over again because they were proud of themselves,” said Shope.

A child celebrates a goal against Eagles player Madison Costner during the clinic on Saturday, June 18 at Resolute Athletic Complex in Columbus, Ohio. – Photo by Olivia Carnevale

Shope’s work with kids on the spectrum started back in California, her home state, about 10
years ago. She started working for Kadiant, a nationwide company that provides high-quality
applied behavior analysis therapy, as her “day” job.

It was in California that Kadiant started an autism-friendly clinic with kids, volunteers, parents
and the California Storm, the local WPSL, Women’s Premier Soccer League, team. When Shope
saw this, she was eager to participate in the clinics; it was combining two of her passions.

When she relocated to Ohio, Shope continued to work for Kadiant and started to play for another
WPSL team, the Columbus Eagles. Shope then looked to expand the physical reach of the
clinics. The goal was the same, but the location, heat and fields were new.

The clinics themselves not only help share the sport of soccer, but are exposing the kids to a
group sport, something that can benefit all kids in this age range, especially kids on the spectrum.

The kids, parents and players warm up in a group before the start of the clinic. – Photo by Olivia Carnevale

“A group sport in general, it’s not like an individual sport like swimming or tennis or something
like that,” Shope said, “in a group sport you have to work as a team and accomplish something as
a team, they’re still kind of young to really grasp that, but still kind of exposing it to them I think
is good.”

It allows both to teach a fun but simple sport to kids on the spectrum, but also to show them what
is possible in sports. Shope is career driven, has a family, but wants to show those around her,
old and young, that soccer is for everyone.

“To see these kids, to see that it’s possible for you to keep playing when you get older, especially
even some of my teammates, some of them are still in college and I’m still playing married with
a family, you know, I’m a mom.” Shope said, “To show them that they can keep continuing to
play soccer, even after having a family and career, you’re able to do it, you should do it, who
cares what anyone else says or thinks.”

Eagles player Sheryl Shope guides two kids through a drill during the clinic on Saturday. – Photo by Olivia Carnevale

So as the kids are celebrating their first goal, pass or move at the clinic, Shope is looking to her
past, scoring a dramatic game-winning left-footer with 28 seconds left at Wittenberg University,
or to her future as a mom and clinic leader as an inspiration to keep playing and spreading her
love for the sport.

“I just love soccer, I was one of those kids who just did not want to try another sport,” said

Her love of soccer expands to anyone and everyone, and her job expands to include all kids on
the spectrum.

“Don’t give up on these kids, have the patience and the time to teach them a sport that they may
end up loving,” Shope explained, “everyone deserves to play soccer, everyone deserves to fall in
love with a sport, and I want to make sure that we provide that opportunity for these kids.”

This clinic marks Shope’s last event at Kadiant, and she will be continuing her work, and soccer
clinics, with kids on the spectrum at Bridgeway Academy.