A.J. Geaslen is the best brother a child with a mental or a physical disability could ever have.
For the past three years, the 13-year-old from Camas has dedicated his time and effort to help athletes with special needs excel on the soccer field and the baseball diamond. He has been a buddy to the Camas-Washougal Kickers TOPSoccer team and has also volunteered in the Lacamas Little League’s Challenger program.
Camas-Washougal Soccer Club TOPSoccer Coordinator Tammie Naffziger nominated Geaslen for the 2012 Washington Youth Soccer Association’s TOPSoccer Buddy of the Year award. Included were letters from Kickers’ head coach Greg Bost and Liberty Middle School language arts teacher David Kilpatrick.
Bost said, “I’ve been coaching TOPSoccer for five years and have been around a lot of wonderful buddies. I can honestly say A.J. is one of the most impressive so far. He very much gets involved with the kids to help them be the best they can be. He isn’t selfish with his time and lends it to anyone who needs it, and truly focuses on helping the players fully enjoy themselves and develop good soccer skills.”
Kilpatrick said, “I know that A.J. is a sensitive young man who looks out for those who might be considered different or who might have special needs. I have heard him vent his frustration when somebody puts someone down, when people are picked on or when people joke about those who are less fortunate. A.J. doesn’t tolerate cruelty toward others, and this is something I admire in this young, yet understanding, caring individual.”
Out of all of the nominees across the state, Geaslen was selected as the Buddy of the Year on May 19 at an awards luncheon in Renton.
“It’s really fun to see the kids have smiles on their faces and enjoying what they are doing,” he said. “I was only thinking about one thing on the drive home from Renton — I want to continue to do all I can to help kids.”
TOPSoccer creates an opportunity for kids with disabilities to be part of their community, where they grow emotionally and physically and where their families, coaches and buddies connect to share the joy of playing soccer.
TOPSoccer buddies participate directly with the individual players. They encourages to the player to go after the ball, move it down the field or pass it to a teammate. They also help the players using walkers and wheelchairs get into the action, and they are always there to celebrate with the players after they score a goal.
“These kids are amazing. Their soccer skills get better every year,” said Geaslen’s mother Molly. “These kids have dreams and aspirations to be like any one else. They get to be with their friends and family, and there’s no pressure. Just sit back and have fun watching these kids excel.”
A.J. knows first-hand how important that is. His 11-year-old brother Tommy was diagnosed with autism when he was 4.
“There are struggles and there are joys. Laughter has certainly gotten us through every single day,” Molly said. “Camas is a wonderful community to live in. We have a village here, where people are always looking out for everybody. I’m a single mom. I don’t know what I would have done without their help.”
With the help of his big brother, Tommy is playing soccer and baseball. A.J. hopes his family’s success story inspires others to help children in need of a buddy and a little encouragement.
“Not only is it a cool thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do for your community,” he said.
Molly Geaslen couldn’t be more proud of her sons.
“A.J. is the best big brother ever,” she said. “Baseball is his sport, not soccer. He’s stepped out of his comfort zone and he’s seeing the big picture. It’s all about helping athletes with disabilities.”