The slick, hard-wood basketball court at was filled with players high-fiving both their teammates and their opponents at the VIP Basketball League's championship game Saturday. The league was created for developmentally challenged children in the Valley.
Steve Siskin, a volunteer coach and Encino resident, started with 10 boys and girls a decade ago and now coaches 43 players during the 2-month winter and spring leagues. It offers young people an opportunity to play on organized teams with coaches and referees.
On Saturday, Siskin and his players celebrated their tenth anniversary with a pizza party and trophies.
The Abravanel family of Tarzana has been in the program from the beginning. Arthur, 22, and Alayna, 20, both have autism. Their younger brother is what is called a “buddy” or “volunteer” who helps those children needing special guidance during the game.
Lisa Abravanel said the games provide social and physical skills for her children and others in the program. She said while the children play basketball, parents are likely catching up with friends and sharing information about needed resources.
“There’s Arthur running. This is all he does,” Abravanel giggled. “He likes to be Kobe Bryant. These kids are just precious. They are just happy running. They are not complaining.”
Amy and Stan Landes of Tarzana said their son, Teddy, 20, is not just there to play basketball.
“The kids are a community,” Stan Landes said. “They get together for birthdays, Sweet Sixteens and holidays. It’s a wonderful thing.”
Karen Henderson of Encino is the team mother. He son, Kyle Henderson, 20, has been in the program since he was 11 years old. Kyle has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and brain damage.
“(Basketball) helps refine his motor skills and balance. It’s sheer joy here and a good time (while) getting some much needed exercise,” Karen Henderson said. “Socialization is big. The kids tend to be cloistered otherwise.”
She asked Kyle what he liked about playing basketball and he said, “Everything” and ran off to play more.
George Charalambous, 12, of Valley Glen experienced his first season at the VIP program.
His mother, Kim Lewis, said he loves it.
“He also loves coach Steve (Siskin) and looks forward to seeing coach Steve every week. He says, ‘Let’s go play basketball’,” she added.
Lewis said she has seen a lot of progress in her son.
“The first time we came, he laid down on the ground,” she added.
Issac Bruse, 10, of Northridge joined the league this winter too.
“In his mind he thinks he’s in the MBA,” said his grandfather, Terry Bruse.
Dad, Mike Bruse, said getting dressed to play ball each week is one of the few things Issac does on his own.
Sydnie Fernandez, 15, and a freshman at Calabasas High School is one of the buddies. Her brother has Asperger syndrome and she thinks she might be getting community service credit by helping out.
“Even if I don’t get credit I’d still do it,” Fernandez said. “I like helping people.”