COLUMBIA — Twenty-nine excited children from the Stephens College Children's School gathered inside Silverthorne Arena on Friday to participate in a mini-clinic put on by the Stars' soccer team.
As a part of the National Collegiate Association of Intercollegiate Athletics' Champions of Character initiative, the Stephens College team brought children from kindergarten through the fourth grade to the team's gym and showed them some soccer drills.
"We want to introduce them to the sport of soccer," head coach Xander Kennedy said. "Our goal is to give each student the opportunity to have the sensation of having a ball at their feet and see what kicking it feels like."
The arena was full of eager, excited children. As team members showed children how to dribble through cones and pass the ball to one another, smiles and laughter were not hard to find.
Stephens team captain Elsie Vieira, who has done other community outreach events through her sorority Kappa Delta, said that this event was special to her and the team.
"We've had a rough season, being a new team," Vieira said. "Sometimes we get down on ourselves, but when we do this kind of stuff it helps us to get motivated. It reminds us why we love soccer."
Vieira said that it was touching to know that the kids would go home boasting about practicing with a collegiate soccer team. She applauded the NAIA for making community service events such as this one mandatory for players in the league.
The NAIA requires that each team in the league participate in community outreach programs or do community service of some kind during its season. According to the NAIA's Champions of Character website, its mission is to "provide training to ensure character is demonstrated through conduct as well as competition, so students know, do and value the right thing in all areas of life."
"The kids are so excited about it," Amy Walker, a teacher at Stephens College Children's School, said about the mini-clinic. "It's nice to have opportunities like this to involve the kids with the team."
Kennedy said the team is already planning future community events such as picking up trash at Stephens Lake Park.
The Stars next game will be 4 p.m. Monday against Kaskaskia College at Cosmopolitan Park's field No. 3.