When Iowa Lakes announced that it would be introducing soccer as a sport at its Spencer campus, there was a great deal of buzz in the community.
Let's face it, Spencer is one of the premier soccer communities in northwest Iowa. With an ever-expanding youth program, the adult leagues, an indoor soccer facility and the fantastic outdoor soccer complex that provides a place to play for hundreds of enthusiasts from around the area - Spencer is a little soccer mecca in the upper Midwest.
So when the announcement was made introducing Coach Kevin Farley and his men's and women's soccer programs, it was a good thing.
But I doubt we realized just how good a thing it was.
For Coach Farley, it's not just about the soccer. Sure he wants to develop a winning program, but he's realistic enough to understand that's not going to happen overnight. Start-up sports teams always take their lumps and Iowa Lakes soccer would be no different. But instead of just sitting by and accepting the whippings, the men and women battled back, serving notice that while the Laker name might be new in soccer circles, both teams have come to play.
Showing a willingness to compete against anyone, the Lakers took the field for each match ready to test and improve their skills.
And while that's an expectation of Farley's for his team - constant competitive growth - it is far from his lone expectation. He understands something a few more college coaches could stand to learn. You're not just building athletes, you're building citizens.
So to match their citizenship development with their athletic development, Farley gets his student-athletes involved in community service. The Laker team is not just a presence on the field, but in the town as well.
And Farley is not going to tell his players to do something he's not willing to do. Surrounding himself with like-minded assistant coaches, Jayke Vallette and Jessica Cannova, he is putting his money where his mouth is, or perhaps I should say he's putting his legs there.
Last year, to promote the first-year soccer program, the three coaches hopped on bicycles and headed to Illinois for a recruitment trip to a large high school tournament. As part of the "Watermelon Ride" the trio raised funds, splitting the dollars between Positively Spencer Youth and the school's scholarship fund. The journey served as a great opportunity to bring notoriety to Iowa Lakes, the soccer program and the city of Spencer - proud home of the Lakers.
Once again, Farley, Vallette and Cannova are taking to the wheel this year, planning a ride to the head coach's home town of Lewisville, Texas, a 900-mile jaunt that will land them at The Panda Cup.
The Boot Scoot and Pedal: The Trail to Texas may indeed bring even greater attention to the Iowa Lakes program and Spencer.
The Panda Cup is a huge tournament featuring some of the top soccer talent in the nation. So intrigued by the Lakers' soccer program plan, the local riders have received amazing support from organizers and those associated with the tournament. Discussions are underway with potential major corporate sponsorship. That would certainly get the Lakers program on the map and bring even more attention to Iowa Lakes and Spencer - attention that money can't buy. And, as they did last year, the coaches are interested in aiding charity.
Farley and staff are currently busy collecting stuffed animals in the Spencer area, and when school begins again after the new years, the collection effort will reach out to other Iowa Lakes campuses and the communities in which they are located.
The collection of stuffed animals will be taken and given to young persons at the children's hospital - just northwest Iowa's way of saying we care, courtesy of our soccer ambassadors.
Sure, it's a recruiting trip, but recruiting trips can be made anywhere. And they generally don't generate corporate sponsorships.
This is an opportunity for Farley and gang to continue promoting Iowa Lakes soccer, the school and the town it calls home, showing that the game is just one component of what we're about in the Spencer area. Let's just stay out of their way, assist them when they ask and reap the benefits.
Iowa Lakes Soccer teams are quickly becoming regional ambassadors. They honor those of us in Spencer with their dedication to serving others and giving back. We could all take a lesson. After all, why can't we take this season of giving and share the feeling all year long.
I for one, look forward to following their ride this year, donating a few stuffed animals, and saying thanks for bringing more than simply soccer to Clay County.