NASHVILLE, Tenn.- Across two different locations over 2,000 miles apart, student-athletes and coaches from five Belmont University athletic teams embarked on mission trips earlier this month, as one cohort traveled to South Dakota and one to Haiti in effort to advance the University’s five core values of Integrity, Inquiry, Collaboration, Service and Humility.
A group of men’s and women’s soccer players and men’s and women’s basketball players traveled to Grand-Goâve, Haiti while representatives from men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball spent time on the Pineridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Both trips occurred during the second week of May.
Belmont women’s basketball player Lauren Thompson (Franklin, Tenn.) and men’s soccer’s Dan Brown (Franklin, Tenn.) were among the eight to travel to Haiti.
“It was such an awesome experience both serving and playing in Haiti. It was great that we were able to use Belmont Athletics as a platform to really engage the kids and connect with them on a level that doesn’t require words,” said Thompson.
Grand-Goâve is located just a few hours away from Port-Au-Prince, the capital of Haiti.
In the morning, the group assisted around the compound with service work and manual-labor type jobs while the children were in school, before playing soccer and basketball with the children in the afternoon. The field boasted children of various age ranges from the Grand-Goâve area, playing and having fun. Whether it was work or play, the Bruins that made the voyage made an impact.
“Soccer was extremely important because all of the Haitian kids love the sport which helped us reach them. It was a blessing being able to connect with them in that way, because I could only speak a few words of Haitian-Creole, but I was able to form a bond with the kids over the game of soccer,” said Brown. “We could connect through soccer and that helped us even further our faith connection when we shared our testimonials with them.”
Men’s basketball Assistant Coach Mark Price served as the mission leader for the eight student-athletes in Haiti.
“What’s great about Belmont is that there really were no hoops to jump through to make this trip happen. It’s a part of Belmont to help serve as an extension of Christ to both the community of Nashville and all other areas, even outside of the United States,” remarked Price. “We’ve got a ton of support because causes like this are very easy to get behind.”
Men’s soccer student-athletes Brown and A.J. Arnold (Jackson, Miss.) made the trip, joining Heather Ferrari (Duluth, Ga.) and Lindsey Espe (LaCañada, Calif.) of women’s soccer. While the basketball representation was comprised of Thompson, as well as Tyler Hadden (Cincinnati, Ohio), Josh Lester (Antioch, Tenn.) and Jeff Laidig (Mishawaka, Ind.) of the men’s basketball program.
Over 2,000 miles away in a different continent, were nine other Belmont student-athletes on a mission trip in South Dakota.
Student-athletes Suzanna Stapler (Alpharetta, Ga.) of women's tennis, Austin Luke (Rowlett, Texas), Amanze Egekeze (Lake in the Hills, Ill.) and Seth Adelsperger (Peru, Ind.) of men’s basketball, volleyball’s Adrianna Person (Lenexa, Kan.), Ellie Ivancich (Naperville, Ill.), Jocelyn Youngdahl (Stillwater, Minn.) and Darby Maggard (Larwell, Ind.) of women’s basketball represented Belmont in Pine Ridge. Graduate assistants Scott Schmelzer (women’s basketball) and Matt Matoh (men’s basketball) also traveled on the mission, with the group led by Coordinator of Academic Services & Sports Ministry Jordan Holm.
“The trip was absolutely amazing. Jordan (Holm) did a great job of putting our group together. I feel like I grew in my faith so much from this experience," said Maggard. “The kids we worked with were awesome and they brought me so much joy. Overall this trip really opened my heart and made me see how much God is really working in Pine Ridge South Dakota.”
Serving primarily at Red Cloud Indian School, during the school day the student-athletes spent time teaching physical education courses before joining some of the older kids for workouts after school.
“Pineridge is in the poorest county in America. Going to school and participating in athletics really helps some of these kids find an outlet,” remarked Schmelzer. “In an area where drug abuse and alcoholism are very high, athletics can certainly help provide avenues away from those vices.”
Sports helped bridge gaps and draw the Belmont student-athletes and the kids of Pine Ridge together.
“What’s cool is that these kids already love basketball and volleyball so much, and for myself and the others to have a chance to share insights about the game is really special. Whether or not we’re having a conversation or not, sports can help grow relationships,” added Schmelzer. “They are very passionate about their games, and they really appreciated the fact that we came to provide support and have fun with them. It’s a special experience for us to be able to affect them in that way.”
Belmont University athletics helped spread its mission from the Badlands of South Dakota to the tropical depths of Haiti.
“Kids generally love sports, and the kids in Haiti specifically loved soccer but also basketball too. We put together a great group of kids who represented those two sports,” added Price. “It’s really neat to see the kids work together. It’s such great tool to use sports as an outlet and relationship builder.”
Belmont student-athletes have been frequenting both of these locations on mission trips over the last few years and this has allowed them to foster strong relationships with the communities.
“Everyone in our athletic department was very supportive and collectively did an amazing job of getting this together. Our staff here is committed to helping each and every student-athlete improve whether it’s physically, academically or spiritually,” said Brown.