Aug 14, 2013

By Josh Dempsey ’16

Music, hot dogs, face painting, laughs and fun. It seemed to be all the fixings of a family reunion–and such a description would not be too far from the truth.

On Sunday, the Fighting Irish men’s and women’s soccer teams hosted their annual Meet the Teams Barbeque at the Kroc Center where local South Bend residents had the opportunity to meet players from both squads and enjoy an afternoon of fun and pickup soccer games.

This was the second year that the Irish soccer teams have held their meet-and-greet session at the Kroc Center. The construction of the Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center in South Bend was completed in January of 2012 and is a state of the art facility for the enrichment of education, arts, faith, and athletics. An 110,000 square foot facility, the Kroc Community Center houses a gymnasium, fitness center, aquatics center, climbing wall, indoor cycling center, banquet rooms, and outdoor turf fields for an array of athletic events.

The Kroc Center was built through the endowment of the Kroc family, and specifically through the charity of Joan Kroc, whose goal it was to build state-of-the-art recreational and arts facilities in underprivileged communities throughout the country so that all children and families could have equal opportunities to better themselves in education, arts, athletics, and faith.

It was a fitting location for the Irish teams to hold such an event, seeing as the mission statement of the Kroc Center is parallel to that of the University of Notre Dame. Both institutions seek to supply meaningful and formative experiences for those that they serve–and this event was certainly meaningful for all involved.

Both the teams have opened camp, with the women’s team just finishing four straight days of two-a-days in preparation for Wednesday’s exhibition match against Xavier, which will officially put its season in motion. The men’s team opens exhibition play Sunday at Creighton. Such being the case, both teams are about to be full steam ahead as they enter their respective seasons.

The Meet the Teams BBQ helped put the game of soccer back in perspective for many of the varsity players and coaches.

Notre Dame junior Max Lachowecki goes one-on-one against a youngster from the South Bend community.

“This event is really just a lot of pick-up soccer between the players and kids, ” Irish men’s coach Bobby Clark said. “For kids to really make that next step, it’s a matter of whether or not they can go out whenever and just play pick-up soccer regularly; that’s where you develop the skills. It’s a game and it’s really meant to be fun.”

Elizabeth Tucker, one of the women’s captains for the 2013 season, added, “Just getting out there and playing pickup soccer for enjoyment is one of the best ways to improve your skills as a soccer player. I worked quite a bit this summer, so a lot of the soccer I played was pickup. It’s just great to be out here doing that and sharing that experience with the kids.”

Along with getting back to the grassroots of how soccer is meant to be played, there were also deeper sentiments that were felt.

There is something to be said about the Notre Dame soccer programs doing an event such as this off-campus. Instead of the community coming to them, they immersed themselves in the community. In a very real way, the teams are reaching out to the South Bend residents and expanding the Notre Dame family and the South Bend community to be one and the same–making a special effort to involve the underprivileged and underdeveloped regions of South Bend.

“It was nice to be able to step into other people’s comfort zones,” men’s soccer captain Grant Van De Casteele said. “A lot of the time people may not be able to make it to campus due to demographics or socioeconomic status; it’s really great to be able to come out here to their neighborhood and be a part of the community and be welcomed at their facilities.”

With any sport, giving back to the fans and showing appreciation for them goes a long way.

“We all know how fun it is to play when we have fans in the stands, so this is a way we can show our appreciation for the support they show us,” Tucker remarked. On giving back to the fans, Van De Casteele added, “We really want to be able to show our younger fans that hard work, dedication, and passion truly do pay off; coming out here is a great way to do that.”

Playing the game together seemed to have a way to break apart any demographic or socioeconomic barrier that may have existed previously.

For many from Notre Dame and the Kroc Center it was a wonderful chance for the kids in attendance and the players to come together. It definitely had a Big Brother/Big Sister mentality to it and a very family-like atmosphere.

Sometimes, that’s all a kid needs–someone to look up to and aspire to be. That was the opportunity the men’s and women’s soccer teams gave the children of South Bend through their event last weekend: a tangible example of how hard work, and a little bit of fun, can go a long way.