Special Connections: Men’s soccer team volunteers at state Special Olympic basketball

By: Nathan Hoy

Waking up on Saturday morning Feb. 13, the men’s soccer team had something in mind that not too many people would probably think about, consider or probably even have any knowledge of whatsoever. The team would come together to do something greater than soccer. They were about to change and make an impact in lives that wouldn’t soon be forgotten by those affected. The team was about to serve and volunteer at the annual Special Olympics.

Without being exactly sure what to expect in the upcoming hours, senior Nate Shull headed down Rainbow Drive on his way to pick up teammate and friend Connor Houlihan. The two seniors arrived at the University of Northern Iowa Wellness Center and headed to the gym to meet the other nine teammates.

The gym was split up into three sections, and each section consisted of an entire basketball court. After playing the Olympic theme song, the opening ceremony commenced, introducing all the athletes and teams. Teams came from Goodwill, Cedar Falls, Waterloo West and all over the Cedar Valley area. After introducing the athletes, the volunteers were split into 12 stations; four stations in each section; however, all four stations in each section were the same.

The volunteers would help shag balls for shooting challenges and help athletes with skill challenges such as dribbling and hitting targets. Shull helped out with the target challenge where athletes would attempt to dial in their accuracy by hitting designated spots on a target with a basketball, and Houlihan helped to rebound balls while athletes shot around and attempted to make as many baskets as possible.

“Nate and I both met and got pretty close to a guy named Tom,” Houlihan said. “Tom was a character and definitely pretty ballsy because he wore Iowa State attire to a UNI facility,” Shull said.

Once the athletes had gone through all four stations, the scores were recorded and added up by the judges. The victors were then crowned, and each one of the men’s soccer team members was able to place a ribbon upon one of the athletes.

Head soccer coach Spencer Steffy had suggested that the team help out because it felt like the right thing to do, but little did the team know the impact that the athletes would have on them. “It was actually a very fun experience and taught me to see things in a whole new perspective,” Houlihan said. “It’s awesome to just see how happy sports can make people and how many smiles you can receive just by helping shag balls or giving high fives.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Shull chirped in. “It was a blast to frankly meet new people and honestly make friends. Those athletes were some of the happiest people I’ve ever seen and impacted me immensely.”

After the event, the team headed over to Village Inn to continue their bonds and brotherhood that was hard to explain. Whether it’s battling on the same field together, sharing some pancakes or helping volunteer at the Special Olympics the men’s soccer team continues to grow together, building inseparable bonds. “It’s this kind of thing that you’ll remember and won’t regret in the future,” Shull said. “I don’t care how many championships you’ve won, genuinely helping others is what truly makes you feel like you’ve won.”

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