by Ashley Conrad
SALINA - Many college sports teams across the country volunteer their time to charity events and the Bethany College women's soccer team is joining the pack. On Saturday, February 18, 2012, the Swedes participated in the Polar Plunge and Strut in Salina for the Special Olympics Kansas. The event rang in a new era of community service for the team.
The Special Olympics started as a summer camp for disabled children and adults in the summer of 1962, according to the Special Olympics Kansas website. The founder and eventual president of the organization, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, defied experts' beliefs in the capabilities of these individuals. She wanted to give these disabled individuals better quality of life through participating in sports.
Soon after, Kansas founded their own organization. Six students from Wichita, Kansas, competed in the International Special Olympics Summer Games in Chicago in July 1968. Kansas then held their own Olympics in 1970 with 300 participants. Since then, Special Olympics Kansas has grown to host over 5,400 athletes in 21 different sports.
Along with athletic competitions, Special Olympics Kansas hosts many charity events and programs across the state to support the athletes. The Polar Plunge and Strut is just one the available events. The schedule of events included a 5K run/walk or a 1 mile road race, a costume contest, and the plunge itself.
The Swedes donated their time and money in a variety of ways. The soccer team raised $200 for the event. The players had various duties. Some of the players participated in the 5K run while others helped with course guidance and finish line timing. The team was selected as special judges for the costume contest and awarded the winning competitors their prizes. The Swedes finished the day by cheering on the brave souls who entered the freezing water for the plunge.
For some of the players, this isn't the first time they have dedicated their time to the organization. Junior Lindsey Pfenninger has been a volunteer for three years. However, other players like sophomore Melissa Pressnall has had limited experience. But both see the importance of the team donating their time to a community event.
"We don't all realize how lucky we are to be able to play this game and we'll get a greater appreciation when we come out and play every day," states Pfenninger. Pressnall added, "We are so wrapped up with soccer and classes that it's good for us to do something for someone other than ourselves." The team also was able to see why others thought it was important to donate to Special Olympics.
Head Coach Sean McMannis challenged the team's people skills at the event. He asked each player to talk to one other volunteer about their involvement with the organization. The girls heard great stories from the other participants and broadened their perspectives as to what Special Olympics meant to those individuals. Pressnall described that experience as one of the best parts of the day.
Both players, as well as the rest of the team, took away many valuable messages for the day. Pfenninger believed that this event will benefit the group. She stated that even though the participants are individuals, they are still working together. "It's not about the sport. It's about doing what they love." Pressnall concluded that this experience opened her eyes to a community event that is worth helping with. "I would definitely consider volunteering again. I like getting the chance to do something for someone else."
You can view pictures of the event here.