Oglethorpe University Men’s Soccer recently joined forces with BlazeSports to host the first-ever series of VA Paralympic Soccer Camps, in partnership with the U.S. Soccer Federation and U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Over six months, veterans will attend a series of three camps held on campus, in the hopes of making the next U.S. Paralympic National Soccer Team.
The first of the three camps, held in late February, included conditioning activities, practice exercises, and scrimmages. U.S. Nationals Paralympic Soccer Coach Stuart Sharp, together with the Oglethorpe team and Coach Jon Akin, worked with nine veterans, all of whom sustained traumatic injuries during their service.
“It was an awesome experience, getting to practice and talk to all the vets,” said OU soccer team member Micah Akin ’16. “Hearing their stories and physically getting to see how they have come back from their injuries was incredible.”
The concept for the camps was conceived by U.S. Coach Sharp, who recognized that a large population of veterans existed who could potentially play for the team. During the camp, Coach Sharp observed the drills and practices to determine which players were ready to move on to the next phase of preparation—the National Team Camp in California. Once there, the players have the opportunity to compete with the National Squad in hopes of making the National Team.
“It was such a humbling experience working with the vets, getting to know the guys and playing the game I love with them,” said Erik Marquez ’18. “They were all so inspiring and just overall great men.”
The Oglethorpe Soccer team’s participation in the camps is part of a larger effort on campus, the GA2MES initiative, which provides Oglethorpe student-athletes with team and individual mentoring and civic engagement opportunities. “Our students are servant-leaders, and participate in many service projects that put them in situations outside of their comfort zone,” says OU Athletics Director Becky Hall. “As we try to teach compassion, understanding, and empathy, we feel the engagement piece is critical in learning those characteristics.”