Union to honor family that banded together in fight to educate and help people with Autism

"The size of your success is measured by the strength of your desire; the size of your dream; and how you handle disappointment along the way." – Robert Kiyosaki

Meet the Bak family. A family who shares the love of soccer while creating awareness and acceptance for the Autistic community.

The Bak’s passion for soccer began at an early age. Erin and Tim met while playing co-ed soccer, and to this day they continue to spend their soccer days playing in adult leagues. They have a 12-year-old daughter who plays soccer, and a son named Tommy who was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum by age two.

“Soccer brought so much to our lives - physical activity, love of the sport, community and friendships,” said Tommy’s mother, Erin Lopes. “We met our best friends through soccer.”

As much as they loved soccer, one person missing on the field was Tommy. It was a struggle to find places for Tommy to play and to be involved in the soccer community.

And from Tommy’s perspective, he was not happy watching. He wanted to be involved in the game, and not be on the sidelines.

At the age of 10, Tommy indubitably wanted to play in a soccer tournament. After endless searches for a soccer tournament that included children with disabilities, there was no success.

There had to be a way to create their own soccer tournament, but the Bak’s weren’t quite sure what a soccer tournament with disabilities would look like.

Tommy had just the answer, “It’s where everyone can play soccer.” Tommy’s statement created a clear path of motivation for the Bak family, as they decided to dedicate their time to creating the best future for their son, which involved getting him on the soccer field, developing friendships and gain acceptance for Autism.

The inspiration to raise Autism Awareness through Scoring Goals for Autism was Tommy. Prior to having a child with autism spectrum, the Bak’s fell into the stereotype that autistic people were not interested in developing social relationships or being a part of the community. Raising Tommy proved that was utterly incorrect.

Tommy broke the label for the Bak family. He showed them that relationships do matter. Although forming relationships were difficult because he was associated with Autism, he was determined to do so.

“The novel thinking now is that Autism Awareness is about changing the way we think about people with autism,” said Lopes. “It’s about acceptance of individuals with autism and helping foster community involvement – schooling, friendships, community sports and ultimately opportunities for employment as our kids become adults.”

What exactly is Scoring Goals for Autism? Well, it is based on Tommy’s vision: to bring the beautiful game of soccer to all athletes for a great cause.  It is an adult seven-a-side tournament held at YSC Sports that raises awareness and acceptance for Autism Spectrum. It is run on the same day as the TOPSoccer Skills and Drills Clinic.

TOPSoccer is a non-competitive, fun soccer program that adapts ball work to the ability of each participant.  Players participating in the adult tournament as well as youth leagues in the region volunteer to work one on one with the TOPSoccer athletes helping each with skills stations and creating opportunities for socialization and friendship.

Scoring Goals for Autism is now on its 4th year of existence, and it continues to expand. “Each year our core group of volunteers grows.  On the day of the event we will have roughly 150 adult soccer players, youth league players, parents, friends, coaches, teachers, nurses, physicians, referees, supporters and players from Philadelphia Union volunteer their time during the TOPSoccer Skills and Drills Clinic and help run the adult tournament,” said Lobes.

“Scoring Goals for Autism was our son’s vision and it’s truly amazing to see how much it’s grown in the last four years,” said Lopes.

All of the proceeds are directly funded to the Autism Science Foundation, a charity that funds evidence- based scientific research in Autism. Many of the Autism Science Foundation’s grantees are located here in Philadelphia at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania.  

Though the success of Scoring Goals for Autism is undeniable, the Bak family is thankful for the little things like seeing their child's’ face light up when he gets to play the game that brought his family together from the start. 

“My personal belief is that if we can build community for children special needs through soccer, we can build community for them anywhere,” said Lobes.

And that is why soccer is the beautiful game.

For more information on Scoring Goals for Autism, visit: http://www.scoringgoalsforautism.org/


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