St. John’s Student-Athletes Share Day of Sports with Special-Needs Students

April 19, 2024

With a cheerful attitude and a commitment to service, St. John’s University Red Storm athletic community members shared their love of sports with local special-needs students on April 17 at the University’s Queens, NY, campus. The 15th annual visit of Community Mayors for Children with Special Needs gave students with developmental and physical disabilities the opportunity to meet St. John’s student-athletes, play their sports, explore the campus, and, most importantly, have fun.

The Brooklyn, NY-based nonprofit provides special-needs children access to sports and other activities adapted to their needs and abilities. More than 300 visiting children progressed through a series of game areas, aided by approximately 100 St. John’s athletes and coaches, who immersed them in training demonstrations and play.

“At St. John’s, we are big on being a family. We are always together, and we give back,” said Isabella Tomeo, a first-year goalkeeper on the Red Storm Women’s Soccer team. “That’s what I love about soccer and this school.”

Inside Belson Stadium, Isabella and her teammates engaged groups of children in assorted drills and cheered them on as they took turns trying to score goals.

A few yards away, David Masur, Ed.D., Associate Athletic Director and Head Coach of the Men’s Soccer team, welcomed the arriving children and their teachers. A vital event organizing team member, Dr. Masur shared how important it is to continue the tradition and make the event more fulfilling every year.

He emphasized how meaningful the event is for St. John’s student-athletes. “Our athletes are special people. They have plenty of energy for others,” he said. “They also have a lot of empathy and joy and really follow the Vincentian spirit in helping others and wanting others to participate and be included.”

The action took place outdoors at Belson Stadium and Jack Kaiser Stadium, where the visiting students received lessons from members of the Red Storm Baseball and Men’s Lacrosse teams. Inside Taffner Field House, members of the Men’s and Women’s Basketball teams and the Women’s Volleyball team delivered pointers on the finer points of their sports.   

Visiting teachers were delighted to accompany their students on the athletic adventure. Kristin Slattery, a sixth- and seventh-grade special-education teacher at P.53K School in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, said events such as this offered her students once-in-a-lifetime access to Division I college athletic facilities.

“To be on a college campus and on a field like this, it’s a dream come true for many of them,” Ms. Slattery said.

Carlos Caraballo, an adaptive physical education teacher at P.53K, said sports have a transformative effect on special-needs students, especially shy ones. “Any sporting event we do, they just come out of their shell,” Mr. Caraballo said.

Meanwhile, at Taffner, the sounds of dribbling basketballs and bouncing volleyballs filled the field house. Brady Dunlap, a first-year forward on the Men’s Basketball team, mentioned how special it was for him and teammates Zuby Ejiofor and Sean Conway to share their love of basketball with the visiting students.

“This gives you a perspective into how blessed you are and how much you want to give back to the community,” Brady said. “It gives so much joy to the lives of these kids who love basketball just as much as we do.”

Justin Turri, Head Coach of the Men’s Lacrosse team, said the event aligns perfectly with the mission and values of St. John’s. “This is a school built around the foundation of opportunity for all, and then you look at our core value of service,” Coach Turri said. “I did not have to remind our guys of how special the opportunities that we have been afforded in our lives are.”

As Coach Turri talked, Edgar Ford, a sophomore defender from Melbourne, Australia, demonstrated the proper way to hold a lacrosse stick. “That’s part of our team values—service and connecting with our community,” Edgar said.

Plenty of visiting students were eager to take a swing or throw off the mound with the baseball team. Assistant Coach John Valente said St. John’s players connected with the visiting students as they demonstrated the passionate and fun sides of baseball. “The energy that these kids bring is incredible,” he said.

Watch a video of the event.