A touch over two years ago Matty Zarb from Taree was kicking a football around with his son, Marli.
Marli has autism. He enjoyed going to junior soccer and watching his siblings play. But Matty also noticed how much his son was enthralled by the relatively simple act of kicking a footy.
In the confusing world that autism would be, Marli seemed at peace.
So Matty had an idea and from there the Rainbow Warriors FC was born. Rainbow Warriors gives kids with special needs the opportunity to try their hand at an organised football competition, although competition isn't really the right word.
Football Mid North Coast and Northern NSW Football quickly came on board and Rainbow Warriors officially kicked off in July 2018. This year the Warriors played a full season.
The hard work of Matty and his band of helpers was rewarded when he was named Football Mid North Coast's volunteer of the year at the recent presentation night. Rainbow Warrior was named the club of the year in the community awards section.
"It's humbling,'' Matty admitted.
He described season 2019 as a 'real learning curve for us.'
"This year the players wore proper team jumpers. We had more than 60 kids registered and we had three age groups,'' he explained.
"We also took them by bus to a gala day at Speers Point in Newcastle where they played against other kids with special needs.
"But the most rewarding thing is to see kids make new friends. It's beautiful.''
Many, if not all the kids have social anxieties, Matty explained.
"So at Rainbow Warriors they're among like-minded kids. They're learning to cope better in situations where there are other people around and that's really important,'' he said.
"We play on Sundays because it's a quieter time.''
Playing soccer is ostensibly the reason they head to Omaru Park each Sunday.
But no-one much cares about what teams win or lose or who scores the most goals.
"It's about being inclusive,'' Matty said.
"Our number one goal is to to help kids develop socially.''
He added that any child who is having a battle fitting in is welcome to attend.
"Our door is open to any kid with problems. I'm happy to talk to any parents about how we can help.'' (Matty can be contacted on 0431 126 366)
He said Rainbow Warriors has a hard working team of helpers who he described as 'brilliant.'
"The greatest gift you can give to anyone is the gift of time,'' he said.
"Our volunteers do that and I can't thank them enough, along with the business houses which support us.''
Matty said planning has already started for next year and he is determined Rainbow Warriors will continue to grow, ensuring more kids will meet and become friends. The Warriors will kick off in conjunction with Football Mid North Coast's other competitions. Matty's hoping there'll be more gala days on the program.
Marli went to Rainbow Warriors last season but he didn't play all that much. Instead he found another outlet.
"Marli cooks the sausages. He's happy doing that,'' Matty explained.
"And that's what it's all about.''
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