By Donald Wittkowski
As their son, Cameron, grew a little older, Daryl and Jennifer DiTroia wanted to find a sports program that was suited to his special needs as an autistic child.
Put in the same situation, most parents probably would have enrolled their son in the local Little League or perhaps a soccer, basketball or football camp.
After giving it some thought, what did the DiTroias do? They created their own program. From scratch.
In 2009, their ambitious undertaking, UT Challenger Sports, was launched with the help of about 20 volunteers, a handful of coaches, a special education teacher and the Upper Township school district. At that time, the program served about 20 kids.
Undergoing tremendous growth, UT Challenger Sports now offers soccer, baseball, basketball, bowling, a dance program and also trains children to compete in the Special Olympics. On June 9, it will take a team up to the College of New Jersey in Ewing Township, Mercer County, for the three-day Summer Games of the Special Olympics.
Daryl DiTroia, 46, who has lived in Upper Township most of his life, stressed that UT Challenger Sports is far more than an athletics program. Concentrating on children with disabilities and special needs, it teaches them the fundamentals of teamwork and skill-building to help them with their mental and physical development.
“They’re improving their social skills, they’re getting exercise and they are getting out with their peers and friends,” DiTroia explained.
UT Challenger Sports now serves around 85 children from Cape May and Atlantic counties, using the athletic facilities of local school districts. DiTroia’s only regret is that there aren’t more programs like it around to serve all of the towns in the surrounding area.
“Kids shouldn’t have to drive an hour to travel to a camp or sports program,” he said. “These types of programs should be in their own neighborhood. It doesn’t have to be a sports program, either. It could be a buddy program for interaction.”
The DiTroias started their own program, in large part, to give their son something that was close to home. Cameron began playing soccer when he was around 5, but as he got older, he couldn’t keep up with the faster pace of the other kids, his father said.
That’s when the DiTroias began discussing their options. UT Challenger Sports was born. Daryl serves as the program director and his 45-year-old wife is a board member of the nonprofit organization.
DiTroia credited the volunteers and financial sponsors for the program’s success. There are now about 150 volunteers for all sports, including student-athletes who come from schools in Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties. In all, there are about 85 student volunteers from 14 schools.
“They’ll come from far and wide,” DiTroia said of the student volunteers. “They want to get involved. They’re tremendous.”
DiTroia remains grateful to the volunteers for also helping with his son’s development as a student-athlete. Now 15, Cameron DiTroia is a freshman at Ocean City High School, where he competes on the cross-country team and also participates in track and field. Although he is autistic, Cameron is part of the high school’s regular academic program.
“He’s a typical teenager. He’s active. He’s pretty much on the honor roll and has started taking piano lessons,” DiTroia proudly said of his son.
DiTroia also noted that his son is already talking about getting his driver’s license and attending college.
“He will be going to college. I feel very confident he will be able to it,” DiTroia said.
In addition to wanting to see his son attend college, DiTroia also hopes someday to build his own athletic complex for UT Challenger Sports that is designed for children with disabilities and other special needs.
“I would love to build a field for children with special needs,” he said.
For more information about UT Challenger Sports visit www.utchallengersports.com or call (609) 425-3919.