MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Last week, members of the West Virginia University women’s soccer team, led by coach Nikki Izzo-Brown, joined WVU President Gordon Gee and additional WVU staff members in Welch, West Virginia, for a community-declared “West Virginia Day,” and a free youth soccer clinic.
Invited by the McDowell County 4-H Soccer League and WVU Extension Agent Donald Reed, the Mountaineers brought soccer to Welch on June 8, teaching young athletes the fundamentals of the game, while also promoting hard work and a healthy lifestyle.
Rising junior forward Hannah Abraham was one of the Mountaineer student-athletes to make the trek south. Read on as she shares her experience with some of the best Mountaineer fans in the state.
When I was asked to help at a youth soccer clinic in McDowell County on June 8, I willingly said yes, having no idea where this place was in this great state or the story behind the community. Even upon our arrival in Beckley on June 7, I was still very much unaware of how much the people of McDowell County were anticipating our clinic and were excited for a day of soccer.
At dinner Wednesday night, we were told that the town declared Thursday “West Virginia Day,” and all residents were urged to wear gold and blue in honor of our visit. We also were told that there could be up to 300 kids at the clinic eager to meet and learn from our group – coach Nikki Izzo-Brown, teammates Macy Stalnaker
and Amanda Saymon
, and additional WVU staff and students. Once we heard that news, it put the whole trip into perspective. I knew then I made the right decision to volunteer, and I was sure this experience would be a lot more than just the ordinary clinic we so often are asked to put on for kids.
We departed Beckley early Thursday morning to make the 90-minute drive to Welch, which is located in McDowell County. Upon arrival at Mountain View High, we could see all the kids lined up awaiting our exit from the bus. As we walked off, one of the local residents began to sing our favorite song – “Country Roads” - and the young soccer players started to chant, “Let’s Go Mountaineers!” It was heartwarming to see people who may have never even seen us play and who definitely didn’t know us personally to welcome us with so much excitement. As the mayor read her proclamation and welcomed our group, she shed a few tears, again proving how grateful everyone was to have us in town that day.
As we met the kids, they began to talk to us about things they do for fun in McDowell, which included activities like playing and swimming with friends and shopping at the Magic Mart. It was eye opening to see how the simplest activities made these kids so excited that they were compelled to share it with us. At that moment, it made a little more sense to us why our visit meant so much to the community.
Throughout the day we were approached by numerous parents explaining how eager the kids were to be around our team and how thankful the kids and the adults were to get to learn from coach and to meet successful young adults like ourselves. We were all taken aback when we were being approached by 10- and 11-year-old children expressing their thanks for our visit.
In general, kids don’t usually understand the value in a lot of experiences, especially a free soccer clinic, and their thanks were very much appreciated! It felt even more rewarding that our visit was a highlight of some of these kids’ lives. It was heartwarming to know that such a small and simple deed like teaching a few hours of soccer could mean so much to a community.
To the outsiders looking in, that Thursday in Welch looked like a simple day of soccer, but for those of us who were lucky enough to experience it, it was so much more. For us, we play soccer because we love it. It was extremely rewarding to get to share our love for the game and serve as role models for a community that may need a bit of guidance. This trip was extremely rewarding in the sense that we got to make the community of McDowell County feel important, just as the community made us feel important. I’m very thankful for this rewarding experience.