JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — This spring, Newtown Park in Johns Creek hosted a first-of-its-kind soccer league, North Fulton United, to give athletes with special needs more opportunities to play.
Special Olympics events have long found support in the North Fulton community, and in 2018 the North Fulton soccer team Special Ks took home a bronze medal at the national summer games.
However, the Special Olympics athletes were limited to just a few events each year. The coaches wanted to find a way to involve more players in a league that would last several weeks, so North Fulton United was born.
“It’s probably one of the only leagues in the country,” coach Marty Jellame said. “There are plenty of teams who meet once or twice a year. We’re the only [league] we know of.”
This year, the league had around 90 players and eight teams, which Jellame said was larger than they ever imagined it would be.
The teams included athletes with special needs and partners without disabilities. The players had six practices and four games.
“It’s really just trying to get people with intellectual disabilities, special needs, a place to have fun, feel included and have that satisfaction of competition,” said Johns Creek Police Major John Clifton, another one of the founders.
Players came from across North Atlanta, and there were volunteers from Alpharetta, Centennial, Chattahoochee, Johns Creek and Northview high schools.
Jelleme thanked the volunteers, the Johns Creek Parks and Recreation Department, the Newtown Recreation nonprofit and sponsor Ken Nugent Attorneys at Law for making the league possible.
“To watch them be out there and play soccer one-on-one with some helpers was one the most amazing experiences I’ve participated in as a parent,” City Councilwoman Stephanie Endres said. “I can’t thank [the league organizers] enough for putting your time and effort and energy into planning, organizing, coordinating and communicating with all these families.”