March 26, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The Tennessee soccer team has been active in the community this spring, lending a hand with numerous projects and events around Knoxville.
Just as fans provide a boost of support and well wishes to the UT soccer program during the season, the Tennessee coaches and student-athletes aim to serve others with the same high enthusiasm and participate in service initiatives that put them in direct contact members of the community.
"As a staff, we are fortunate to have a group of players so committed to reaching out and giving back to many different members of the community," head coach Brian Pensky said. "To varying degrees, we are all guilty of getting bogged down and lost in the daily minutia of our own lives. Seeing the challenges that many of these individuals face, leaves us all feeling extremely thankful and grateful for all of the ways in which we are blessed."
On March 16, the Lady Vols headed for Amherst indoor soccer facilities to participate in TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer) (www.topsoccer.us) to coach soccer for children with disabilities. They were each paired up with a child for one-on-one interaction throughout the training session and each Lady Vol had to adjust and modify her coaching skills based on each child's individual needs. They played a variety of soccer skills games that involved shooting, dribbling and passing.
"Throughout the session, our main goal was to put a smile on the kids' faces," junior Tori Bailey said. "TOPSoccer provided us with a great opportunity to reach out and connect with children in our community."
Every Friday, several Tennessee players work with FC Alliance, one of the local soccer clubs in Knoxville. The Lady Vols assist the coaches during the training sessions and get a chance to spend time with kids who are some of UT soccer's biggest supporters.
"Most of the kids are huge Lady Vol soccer supporters so it has been a great chance to interact and give back to those who support us every weekend in the fall," junior CC Cobb said. "It is amazing to see the amount of kids who play and enjoy the sport that we love, and to which we have dedicated a large part of our lives."
Tennessee does a large portion of its work in the community away from the soccer field. The Volunteer Ministry Center (www.vmcinc.org), otherwise known as VMC, is a non-profit organization in Knoxville where local volunteers served the poor and the homeless. The Lady Vols helped organize the donated supplies for the homeless and also had a chance to sit down and talk to many of the less fortunate who were at the ministry for lunch.
"Volunteering for this association was an eye-opening and humbling experience, allowing us to interact with people less fortunate than ourselves and giving us a dose of perspective on how lucky we are," sophomore Allie Sirna said. "The overall experience helped to teach us the importance of giving back and the benefits of helping others along the way."
Sophomore goalkeeper Julie Eckel had a similar experience when she served at Lost Sheep Ministries Center (http://the-lostsheepministry.com). The organization has helped feed many homeless people every Wednesday in downtown for over 20 years. Every night workers prepare food, give away clothes and teach Christian lessons to the homeless. Eckel and her teammates worked the women's clothes line and interacted with both organizers and attendees at the ministry.
"The Lost Sheep Ministries was one of the most inspiring community outreach events that I have been a part of at Tennessee," Eckel said. "It was a great experience and something we plan on doing again."
The Tennessee soccer team also sought to help and comfort sick children and their families. The Lady Vols twice visited the Ronald McDonald House (www.knoxrmhc.org), which provides free housing to family members of hospitalized children. On their first trip, the players cleaned the house and helped tidy things up. On their second visit, the Lady Vols cooked dinner for the families, making pasta with marinara sauce, salad, bread and cookies - quite similar to a fine pre-game soccer meal.
"We also had a chance to meet some of the residents," junior Caroline Capocaccia said. "It was awesome to learn more about how the Ronald McDonald house works. And most importantly, helping out at the Ronald McDonald house was a very rewarding experience. We can't wait to go back!
Spring junior transfer Megan Erskine and many of her new teammates recently visited patients at The East Tennessee Children's Hospital (www.etch.com). The Lady Vols brought treats to the kids and spent time interacting and playing with them during their visit. Seeing such strength the kids and their families show in the face of adversity was truly inspiring for the team.
"Going to the Children's hospital was an awesome experience," Erskine said. "I was really touched by the children and their families, and look forward to going back again. Although life has thrown them all different kinds of struggles at such young ages, they all had smiles on their faces and the children were SO sweet. It made me really happy to be a part of something like this. It was a privilege getting to know these kids, and we hope they all get well soon."