Bulldogs mix fitness with fun

North County Adaptive Sports & Recreation Program

Step inside the gym at the Colony Park Community Center or venture into the Atascadero Lake Pavilion on any given Thursday night and you are likely to hear the sounds of laughter erupting from the building as the “Bulldogs” – athletes of all ages and skill levels – take part in non-competitive games and activities. 

The North County Adaptive Sports & Recreation Program (NCASRP) is a grassroots non-profit that has been providing supervised sports and recreational activities to those in northern San Luis Obispo County since 2010. Formed when a group of parents with special needs children involved with the Special Olympics witnessed that program undergo cutbacks which forced programs to discontinue being year-round, the NCASRP currently boasts nearly 60 athletes. 

“We put our heads together and decided that we would try to do our own program, and the result was the Bulldogs,” parent and volunteer Chris Shuck said.

Shuck’s involvement with the adaptive sports program stems from helping to ensure her 29-year-old son, Matthew, had the same access to physical and social activities as able-bodied people.  Born and raised in England, Shuck moved with her four children – Jason, Stephanie, and twins Matthew and Ben – to Atascadero 23 years ago where they all attended and graduated from local schools. Stephanie and Ben were top runners for Atascadero High School and paved the way for Matthew to become the first person with a disability at the high school to participate on the track and cross country teams. He continues to run half marathons, racking up more than 50 races thus far.

Volunteers ensure program success

The NCASRP board members, coaches and officers are all volunteers and are instrumental to the program and its athletes. With the help of other volunteers in the community, the program helps athletes with an age range of 15 to 70+ remain active and involved throughout the year with a wide variety of sports including basketball, volleyball, bocce ball, kick ball and broom ball. Other no-cost activities include line dancing, barbeques and dance parties to name just a few.

“Members of the disabled population are often overweight and unmotivated,” Shuck said. 

Now, going on four years, a whole new world of fitness and fun has opened up to individuals in the area. Helping to ensure a non-competitive atmosphere is an important aspect of the program.  

 “We wanted something year-round and the competitive side was not that important to us. We wanted our children and our friends to have a safe place to have fun and to grow and learn a sport.”

The athletes meet on Thursday nights, year round, at the Community Center gym in Atascadero where they play a rotating schedule of sports including volleyball, basketball and broomball.

“We are so grateful to the City of Atascadero who partner with us,” Shuck said, “without their support there is no way the program would have been so successful. They have supported us by opening up their facilities to us, both for athlete use and for our board meetings.”

In addition to activities at the gym, a smaller group gathers at Kennedy Club Fitness to swim together on Monday evenings. Students of Cal Poly Professor Kevin Taylor come out and work with the athletes on a regular basis for all of the sporting events.

“The athletes love it and the Cal Poly students love it, so it’s good for everybody,” Shuck said. “They all have fun; it’s so much more than just playing a sport.”

Dancing the night away

For the months of January through early March, the Bulldogs will meet at the Atascadero Lake Pavilion to participate in what Shuck calls their most popular activity “by far” – dancing.

“We do all the fun dances like YMCA,the Macarena, the chicken dance, the Mexican hat dance – we do all of those,” Shuck said.

Bonds form and the athletes and their parents gather together throughout the year, whether it’s for their annual barbecue, a bocce ball tournament, to cheer on the North County Indians baseball team, or to walk alongside one another in the Atascadero Colony Days parade or the Paso Robles Christmas parade.

Newcomers and visitors are always welcome. Parents or caregivers are required to stay throughout the duration of all activities. 

In order to continue sharing activities with the athletes at no cost, the volunteers of NCASR always welcome fundraising and donation possibilities. Although the rental fees of the Community Center are covered by the City of Atascadero, the program pays for use of the pavilion and for using the pool at Kennedy. Those interested in sponsorship opportunities to help meet those costs or those wanting more information on the North County Adaptive Sports & Recreation Program and the Bulldogs are encouraged to visit ncasarp.org.

Meagan Friberg - writer and editor, Central Coast Active