Helping People

‘Motor Soccer’ gives disabled kids a chance on the field

Coach Antonio Paz plays with Kyle Mueller, 4, at the soccer field in Pinecrest Gardens. The coach runs a soccer program for children with disabilities.
Coach Antonio Paz plays with Kyle Mueller, 4, at the soccer field in Pinecrest Gardens. The coach runs a soccer program for children with disabilities. For the Miami Herald

Fifteen-year-old Nicky Gutierrez woke up at 6 a.m. recently and asked his father this: “Papi, when is ‘Motor Soccer’?”

A few hours later and many times since then, Gutierrez, who has Down syndrome, has had similar conversations with his dad.

“Papi,” he has said, “don’t forget Motor Soccer!”

Antonio “Motor” Paz, who got his nickname because he is seemingly always on the move, has been staging soccer clinics for kids and adults with disabilities for the past decade.

“Motor Soccer” is not the official name of the clinics — it’s just how it’s known to Nicky. Either way, though, the clinics are open to all kids and adults with disabilities, and there is no fee.

The next clinics will be held on four consecutive Saturdays, from Nov. 10 to Dec. 1, from 5 to 6 p.m., at Pinecrest Gardens Park and Library, the former home of Parrot Jungle.

Paz, who coached soccer at Coral Gables High from 1986 to 2002 and more recently with the Pine Crest Premier club team, has a deep background in the game. The 57-year-old played for Miami Dade College South Campus in 1979 as a defender, winning a junior-college national championship. He also played at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and at Florida International University.

The clinics, though, are a special passion for Paz, whose niece, Elisa De Castro, has Down syndrome.

“My goal,” Paz said, “is to reach out to everyone with a disability in the hopes of using soccer as therapy for motor-skills development. We would love to be able to do this year-round.”

Coach Antonio Paz stands with kids playing at soccer field in Pinecrest Gardens. Alexia Fodere For the Miami Herald

Paz said he has already spoken with organizers within David Beckham’s Major League Soccer expansion team, Inter Miami, which is set to begin play in 2020.

“We want to bring that component to the Beckham group so we can get the word out in the tri-county area,” Paz said. “We want to have a section in the stadium they are building that is dedicated to kids with disabilities.”

Paz said he has also contacted local colleges and universities and is looking for an indoor facility where he can stage the clinics during the hot summer months.

In addition, dedicated and attentive volunteers are always needed to work the camps. Paz has had as many as 28 kids at one of his clinics, and at least two volunteers are required for every camper.

Paz usually gets soccer players from local schools such as Lourdes, Palmetto, Coral Gables, Belen, Columbus and Westminster Christian to volunteer at the clinics.

The campers go through different stations, including one in which they shoot the ball on goal and another where they dribble around flags. The campers pick up cones, which helps them bend, and they practice footwork and ball control.

Former Lourdes soccer player Lucy Hernandez, who is now a freshman at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, volunteered at the clinics for the past two years.

“It was probably my favorite service-learning experience,” Hernandez said. “You can tell that this hits home deep with [Paz]. His whole family is passionate about the clinics.”

The campers, Hernandez said, often show up 30 minutes early and are bursting with excitement.

“You can see it from the moment they arrive because they sprint from the parking lot to the field,” Hernandez said. “They love it. “They spend the entire hour running around.’’

Paz is trying to get them to follow the rules as they go from drill to drill. Some are trying to listen to Paz, and some are just going crazy with excitement.

“It’s chaotic, but they are all a joy.”