Corban University graduate JoAnna Fields’ passion for sports accessibility

JoAnna Fields partners with Capital Futbol Club's TOPSoccer program, which provides access to the game of soccer for youth with disabilities.

JoAnna Fields partners with Capital Futbol Club’s TOPSoccer program, which provides access to the game of soccer for youth with disabilities.

This is part of a weekly series introducing readers to individuals who are passionate about our Mid-Valley community.

Spring football is in full swing at Salem Indoor, an indoor soccer center tucked away on Portland Road.

The building, owned by Salem’s Capital Futbol Club, is not only home to indoor league matches, but welcomes a modified soccer program each spring and fall for athletes who have traditionally faced barriers to entry into the sport.

The Capital FC TOPSoccer program is the passion project of JoAnna Fields, who grew up “down the road” and graduated from McKay High School and then Corban University. While at Corban, Fields was hired as a social media intern for CFC in the summer of 2017.

After graduating with degrees in exercise science and psychology, she helped the organization again before being hired full-time.

Fields grew up playing basketball, volleyball and softball and never imagined she would become the director of a football program.

“My memories are playing with my cousins ​​outside my grandmother’s house and them shooting the ball to me,” she said.

But Fields recognized the need to grow the game for people with different needs.

She volunteered every summer for Camp Attitude, an accessible summer camp in Foster. When she first became an intern at CFC, she also cared for a child with a disability. Fields said that because she was working in football at the same time, she realized there was an opportunity.

She presented the idea at a staff meeting and it was suggested that they explore bringing TOPSoccer to Salem. The national program has other active programs across the state, including Portland and Eugene. Fields attended the program in Portland, became certified and began planning what the program would look like in Salem.

CFC TOPSoccer became official in the spring of 2022. That year, the CFC received a $20,000 grant from the Oregon Community Foundation.

“Immediately we had 40 kids signed up,” Fields said. It was an unexpected question and meant that the program was split into two sessions. One for athletes from 5 to 9 years old and the other for athletes over 10 years old. Fields has also had to limit sessions.

For this year’s spring session, 51 athletes are registered and there is a waiting list. Some participants are brand new to the program. Others have been participating since 2022.

The athletes all have intellectual and developmental disabilities, regardless of classification. It’s a barrier some families may face in other programs for children with disabilities because of strict qualifications and applications, Fields said.

“TOPSoccer is an open slate,” Fields said. “I think we really need that in our community.”

This year, CFC TOPSoccer also offered pop-up winter lessons for athletes with disabilities.

Fields said her favorite part of the program is seeing the children.

Each athlete is paired with a “buddy,” a community volunteer – often between the ages of 13 and 17 – to provide one-on-one training and support. The buddy cannot be a parent, but parents must remain on site. It has helped foster a community connection that Fields is proud of, she said.

Fields said she enjoys seeing athletes connect with peers and parents connect with other parents.

Every Saturday, each of the two sessions begins with exercises and one-on-one mentorship with friends. At the end of the training, the group is split into small football matches.

This year the program also partnered with DSP Connections, an organization that provides support to adults and children with disabilities. The organization awarded grants to a number of families to enroll their children in the program.

Fields also wants to start a basketball program, although it wouldn’t fall under the CFC umbrella. She said it is part of her vision to increase the accessibility of sports.

“Families are constantly asking for more,” Fields said. “Not only do we want to expand the football options, but I also want to add a few more sports because I think you can replicate this model across the board for athletes.”

She is grateful for the support CFC has provided, she said. There are at least 50 volunteers for TOPSoccer and the program would not be possible without the indoor space.

There is a form to register online at cfcsalem.com/topsoccer. The Spring TOPSoccer program has started, but registration for the waiting list is also online. The program costs $80 for 8 weeks, although scholarships are available.

If you have an idea for someone we should profile for this series, email Statesman Journal Editor-in-Chief Cherrill Crosby at [email protected]

Dianne Lugo covthe Oregon Legislature and equity issues. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @DianneLugo

This article originally appeared in Salem Statesman Journal: How Capital FC TOPSoccer is improving sports accessibility