The University of Indianapolis men’s soccer team travelled to Haiti, connecting with Nehemiah Vision Ministries to build a new soccer field for the village of Chambrun. As the group travelled south, each player took charge of an extra suitcase so the 70 soccer balls, uniforms, training gear, shoes and guards they were donating could be put to use.
The soccer team is the first in recent years to take a service trip rather than a team vacation. Junior forward Jake Meyer saw how this opportunity to serve others would play into their season.
“It was more than just learning a lesson about putting in the work to get a result, but it also brought us together as a team,” Meyer said. “Individually, if there was only two of us out there during that week, none of what we got done would have been accomplished. For me, it’s a lesson that we need to come together and work as a team if we want to achieve our goals, and we want to win each and every game and win the conference.”
Fifteen student-athletes, along with Head Men’s Soccer Coach John Higgins, two graduate assistants, Associate Athletics Director Scott Young and Assistant Sports Information Director Kyle Piercy were submerged in the Haitian culture for a week. During their stay, the goal was to construct a soccer field complete with irrigation and fencing. The team was involved in the entire process including field prep, spreading the soil, irrigation and planting grass seed. The team arrived with intentions to put a fence in place, but time did not permit for it.
“Everyone stuck together; everybody worked hard,” Higgins said. “There was that trust that I’m going to work as hard as I can when I’ve got the pickaxe in my hand because I know you’re going to work as hard as you can, and that’s the kind of stuff I think is going to come on to the field.”
The team also had the opportunity to interact with the children in the village. The team was divided up into two groups. One would work on the field in the morning, while the other would put on a soccer clinic and have the opportunity to interact with community members.
Sophomore midfielder Josh Ling left Haiti with an abundance of memories that included the children with whom he connected with.
“The amount of kids that run up to you just like this [with their arms wide open] because they wanted to get picked up was crazy,” Ling said. “They’d grab your phone and then play games on it, and then they’d get on the camera. And it’d be the first time that they’ve seen themselves. They’d take lots of pictures of them wearing our glasses and our hats.”
During a Greyhound training session on Chambrun’s dirt field, Meyer had a young child literally cling to him.
“I had, just out of nowhere, some kid I didn’t even meet ever, never saw him before just came up to me and just gave me the biggest hug. For like a minute, he held on,” Meyer said. “I was just like ‘This is so cool.’ I’ve never met this kid before, and he’s so happy, and so it was really nice to play with them. We weren’t the cure-all for their poverty, and we weren’t going to fix everything for them, but it definitely—you could tell—it made their day or week at least for us to be down there to play with them and teach them stuff.”
Senior back Brendon Widau saw children wherever the team went, and even at Olympic Park where the team had an opportunity to train three times during their week in Haiti.
“You always dream to go play in an Olympic top-notch facility that’s $22 million,” Widau said. “To practice there was incredible. And there were little kids still there wanting to play and practice with us.”
As the team prepares for the upcoming season, Higgins hopes that the trust and dedication remains.
“We’re going to be a really good team this fall,” Higgins said. “The biggest thing for us is, can we get a bunch of talented guys working hard together? And for me that was the biggest challenge that we had as a group when we were down there [in Haiti], and it was the most pleasing thing because we accomplished it [building the field].”
Widau also has some thoughts he plans to carry into the season as well.
“We’re taught principles. We go by ‘serve by leadership and don’t complain.’ It [serving in Haiti] is just a great way to get back at it before preseason starts and it just gives us the right momentum,” Widau said. “That week probably felt like two-a-days or more, and we survived that.”
The Greyhounds’ first match of the season is set for Sept. 3 at Key Stadium as UIndy takes on Davis & Elkins College beginning at 11 a.m.