Aug. 15, 2016
By Joanne Norell
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Giving back to the special needs community has always been close to the heart of University of Notre Dame women’s soccer sophomore Shannon Hendricks.
For the local product from Granger, Indiana, it’s been an innate part of her family dynamic. The Hendricks family has long been involved with special needs organizations. Her father, Ken (Notre Dame class of ’81), coached a Special Olympics basketball team while in high school, while her mother, Lori, grew up in town and volunteered at the Logan Center. The two met at South Bend’s Camp Millhouse, a summer camp for people with special needs.
Their ties to those groups only grew stronger with the arrival of their youngest son, Brian, who was born with Down Syndrome. Since, the family has continued its involvement with these groups. Lori has coached a Special Olympics swim team for 17 years, with Shannon pitching in as an assistant throughout middle school and high school. Shannon has also volunteered with groups like Special Outdoor Leisure Opportunities (SOLO) teaching people with special needs how to downhill ski, and with the Michigan Down Syndrome teen group.
For Shannon, who is the youngest of the four Hendricks children, it’s about supporting someone who has always been there for her.
“Brian is my best friend,” she said of her brother, who rarely misses her games. “He is always there for me and we are each other’s biggest fans. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬Â¦ His persistence and positive outlook on life are two things I admire about him.”
This spring, Hendricks began helping coach the Notre Dame Special Olympics Unified soccer team, of which Brian is a member. It was only a matter of time before it occurred to her to bring her two soccer worlds together.
“Immediately the athletes and I bonded over our love of soccer,” Hendricks said. “I thought it would be really cool to introduce my teammates to a group of people they might not have had much interaction with and play soccer together.”
The idea germinated into pair of field day events hosted by the women’s soccer program during the spring. The team invited the Special Olympians for a day of games including beachball volleyball, pool noodle javelin, soccer, face painting and other fun activities at their practice field.
The response has not only been positive from the Special Olympics athletes, but from Hendricks’ teammates as well.
“I have gotten a ton of positive feed back from the Special Olympians and even some of their parents who have reached out to me to tell me how awesome the events were,” Hendricks said.
“It was an extremely rewarding experience,” junior goalkeeper Lexi Nicholas added. “We all enjoy getting to know each and every person who comes to the events. They are such an energetic and positive bunch, it makes the whole event incredibly fun. We have made so many memories being a part of this, and I feel so blessed that we get to do this.”
For Hendricks’ part, it’s been extremely rewarding to watch her two teams come together in a relationship she’d love to see continue to blossom.
“I definitely hope the relationship between ND soccer and Special Olympics continues to grow because it is an amazing experience for everyone involved,” she said. “I hope we can be a part of more events in the future.”
— ND —
Joanne Norell, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2014 and coordinates communications efforts for the Notre Dame women’s soccer, men’s tennis, women’s tennis and fencing programs. Norell is a 2011 graduate of Purdue University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, and earned her master’s degree in sports industry management from Georgetown University in 2013.