US Youth Soccer (USYS), the largest youth sport organization in the country, and the national association of LIJSL, recently announced its’ Regional recipients of their “Of the Year” awards. For the second consecutive year, an LIJSL volunteer has received regional recognition by USYS.
East Islip SC’s Bella Pepe, representing LIJSL and the leagues’ state association -ENYYSA – received the East Region TOPSoccer Buddy of the Year award. The Outreach Program for Soccer (TOPSoccer) is a community-based program to give children and young adults with physical and/or intellectual disabilities the chance to step on the field. The program has been running through LIJSL for over 40 years.
Pepe was nominated by several people, including her own uncle, Louis Pepe. Pepe, East Islip SC’s 1st VP, founded the clubs’ TOPS program, named Just For Kicks, a dozen years ago. He wrote, “she goes above and beyond to show the (TOPSoccer) players that they belong on the field and she makes them feel special by acknowledging them. While at Just For Kicks, she has been instrumental in building the confidence of one special player who wanted no part of soccer…Bella is the epitome of everything and more of the type of young adult you want representing this prestigious award. She is an extraordinary person and it is hard to believe that she is only 15. 15!!…I was not blessed to have a daughter but if I had, I would only describe what I would want in a daughter to be like Bella as she is such a caring, giving and selfless person.”
Bea Huste-Petersen wrote “her leadership trickles down to others her age as she leads and others follow her lead. Organized, thoughtful and on target are some of her strongest attributes, a wonderful recipe for success. She works hard and, quite simply, gets the job done!”
Soccer Mom Nancy Villa added that “Bella has been a wonderful support and guidance for my son William, who is an 11-year-old autistic child. She is an altruistic young girl who has been incredibly patient, compassionate and inspiring in every practice at the soccer field. I have witnessed her extraordinary dedication to my son and all the kids who are within the spectrum of autism, facing challenging behavioral issues in which Bella has done a great job beyond her years, just being unconditionally loving and kind. Bella is clearly the change we all want to see in this world.”
East Islip’s Director of Referees, Patricia Graydon, stated that “it’s very hard to recall a time when there wasn’t a smile on Bella’s face and that is reassuring to the children. She has a very caring way about her that makes the players feel very at ease…She is positive in her instruction and tireless with her enthusiasm. I hope to have many more years working with this extraordinary young lady.”
Bella will be recognized of one of four regional winners during the virtual USYS Awards Gala on January 14th, 2021. At that time USYS will announce its’ 13th class of the “Of The Year” national recipients, as part of the virtual US Youth Soccer Workshop/United Soccer Coaches Convention.
In 2020, West Hempstead SC’s Jessica Lee, was recognized as USYS East Region, and then TOPSoccer Buddy of the Year National award recipient.