Eye on the ball

Soccer is an important part of Ella’s life. Now 8, the girl with Down syndrome has been playing at Torresdale Boys Club when she was 3, bringing her smile to every game.

Getting her kicks: Ella Nicholl has been selected to play on the Torresdale Boys Club girls traveling team. Ella has Down syndrome, and on the field she’s a valued teammate. During a recent game, she got three back-to-back touches on the ball, earning high fives from all her teammates. LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTO

For as long as she can remember, Ella has been on the soccer field. She started kicking the ball when she was 2 with the Fox Chase Champions, and six years later is a member of the Torresdale Boys Club girls traveling team.

Ella has Down syndrome, but on the field, she’s just another teammate. Ever since she put on the pinnie and joined the team, her teammates and coaches have treated her just like one of the girls, something her parents Chrissy and Kevin Nicholl are deeply grateful for.

“Torresdale [Boys Club] has always been so accepting, and in fact pushed us to let her do more,” Chrissy said.

When Ella played soccer with Fox Chase Champions, a recreational nonprofit for kids with special needs, she loved being active on the field. Chrissy talked to Jim Lee at the Torresdale Boys Club about letting Ella play in-house with the rest of the girls when she was 3, and he agreed with no hesitation.

“It was nerve-wracking bringing her into a typical environment,” Chrissy said. Ella attends a special education school, so her parents wanted to let her experience inclusive extracurricular activities. Despite the worries, Ella immediately clicked with her teammates.

“The other kids don’t seem to notice a difference,” Chrissy said.

There was never a moment where coach Carrie Anderson had to teach her teammates to accept her on the team. They’ll encourage her when she makes a big move – at a recent game she got three back-to-back touches on the ball, earning high fives from all her teammates – and will help her with her position if she gets sidetracked.

The dream team: The Torresdale Boys Club girls traveling team smiles after a recent game. LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTO

“We never had to set anyone aside or do anything, she fits in quite fine,” Anderson said. “The only thing Ella has ever had to ask me is open a water bottle.”

Ella is a jack of all trades on the field, playing any position Anderson puts her. Her favorite part of the game is kicking the ball and spending time with her teammates.

This season is Ella’s first time on the traveling team, visiting different fields throughout the city. Her parents held her back from traveling a year out of concerns for the bigger and louder fields in unfamiliar territories, but Anderson and Lee helped persuade them to give it a shot.

“She actually asked Kevin and I to play,” Chrissy said. “We asked if she was sure she wanted to play on the bigger field, but she kept saying I want to play soccer, I want to play soccer, so we let her make that decision.”

Ella isn’t limited to just one talent. In addition to playing soccer for both Torresdale Boys Club and Fox Chase Champions, she Irish dances at Celtic Flame School of Irish Dance and runs track for St. Katherine. Her activeness is an inspiration to her younger siblings Kennedy and Clare, 6 and 3, both of whom have followed her cleated footsteps to the soccer field.

“Society in general has come so far in seeing what children like Ella can accomplish,” Chrissy said. “It doesn’t always work, and that’s OK, but this works and her coach sees she is capable.”

As for Ella’s future, right now she’s looking forward to continue playing soccer and staying active. When asked if she wanted to continue playing soccer on the team, Ella remained tight-lipped, but her answer is obvious if the smile on her face when she runs on the field is any indicator.

“She better keep playing,” Anderson said as Ella ran off to join her teammates at warmup.