Maplewood’s Isabella Kellar becomes soccer ‘buddy’

Submitted photo Ohio North Youth Soccer Association District 1 Commissioner Scott MacMillan, left, stands with award-winners Britain Licht, center, and Isabella Kellar. Kellar was named the Mahoning Valley TOPSoccer Buddy of the Year, and Licht was presented the 2018-19 District 1 Merit Award.

CORTLAND — Isabella Kellar is one busy gal.

The Maplewood High School senior has lettered in soccer every year since she was a freshman, and also did so in track and cross country in grades nine through 11. She’s qualified for district, regional and state championships various times for both running sports and also has received All-Northeastern Athletic Conference and all-county honors for cross country.

Bella, as her friends call her, was one of the Twenty Under 20 honorees in 2018 in an awards program in which the Tribune Chronicle, Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley and Kent State University at Trumbull recognized 20 outstanding young people for their leadership and volunteerism in the community.

She already is attending Youngstown State University through the College Credit-Plus program.

Then there are those two cats and two dogs at home for which she also helps her older brother care. “I adore them,” she said.

“Sometimes it’s tough, attending college while still in high school, but I just stay focused and continue to work hard,” she said.

It surprised no one, really, when last month, the Ohio North Youth Soccer Association awarded Bella as the TOPSoccer Buddy of the Year.

The Outreach Program for Soccer — TOPSoccer — is a community-based training and team-placement program for young athletes with special needs. Bella became involved in TOPSoccer as a “player buddy” in 2010 at the age of 7 and returned as a volunteer every year for the past 10.

“My mom, grandmother and grandfather all have strong volunteer spirits, so I learned the benefits of helping others at a young age from them,” she said. “Britain Licht asked my mom to help with TOPSoccer, and since she’s a good friend, we both wanted to help her and her teammates, as well as other people with disabilities.”

Last year, Bella went from volunteer to coach, accepting the responsibility of providing meaningful learning, development and physical participation opportunities for 18 special-needs athletes ages 11 to 35.

“Being involved with TOPSoccer is one of the brightest parts of my year. Seeing the kids and adults learn and grow in the sport and also gain better interpersonal skills makes all the hours I’m with them totally worth it,” she said.

It was fitting Bella’s buddy Britain, also of Cortland, was honored by the ONSYA. Britain earned the 2018-19 District 1 Merit Award, which acknowledges individuals who have made outstanding contributions to youth and the sport of soccer.

“I’ve been playing since I was 4 years old,” said the soccer enthusiast, who prefers to be called Brit.

The Lakeview High School graduate attended Trumbull Career and Technical Center for three years. She and her younger brother, Kyle, have played soccer nearly their entire lives.

The former Girl Scout explains how her passion for the sport developed over time: “My mom was the Lakeview girls junior varsity soccer coach and I was the assistant manager for her teams for 10 years.”

For the last decade, she has volunteered as a manager of the 4-and 5-year-old soccer program at Farmer Jim’s Indoor Sports Complex. But it’s the TOPSoccer program that really sealed the deal.

“I have been involved in the Mahoning Valley TOPSoccer program for the past 15 years as a both a player and coach, and have assisted with field and equipment management, set-up and tear-down,” she said.

“I volunteered my time and service for five summers to be a counselor for the local area’s five-week, five-days-per-week summer enrichment program for special-needs students.”

She’s now part of LEAP — Life Enriching Activities Program — a local organization for adults with disabilities.

Brit said she knows a bit about being a student facing certain challenges, given that the hearing and speech impairment she has had since her youth. She has cochlear implant hearing aid, which has also helped her conquer certain challenges and has greatly improve her ability to communicate easily with others.

“My family is great and I have supportive and encouraging neighbors and friends. My mom is my best friend and has inspired me my entire life. I wanted to play soccer and 15 years ago there weren’t any leagues around where I could fit in with my abilities, so she started the local league,” she said.

Bella and Brit share a love of soccer, a love for Cortland and a deep bond of friendship with one another.

Brit wants to play soccer indefinitely. “I would like to continue to play and advocate for other special needs athletes to participate with me.”

And though Bella will be heading out to Kent State University in the fall to study journalism, she’ll get back home as often as possible to visit her hometown, Brit and all the other friends and family members she loves so much … including the four, furry four-legged ones.