By TERRY GREENE
Mahomet Citizen sportswriter
Mahomet-Seymour varsity girls’ soccer coach Joey Gruner and several current and former Bulldog soccer players recently returned from a 10-day trip to Roatan, Honduras, where they participated in a group mission project.
Joining Gruner were Nik Cook, Nathan DeHaan, Sarah Van Wingerden, Morgan DeHaan and Lauren Longfellow.
To make the nearly 1,600- mile trip, the group drove to Indianapolis, flew to Houston, Texas, and from there, flew directly to Roatan. Roatan is the largest of three islands located off of the northern coast of Honduras.
According to Gruner, the trip was organized through Mission Roatán, a locally based non-profit organization. While there, the group spent several days removing, upgrading, and replacing the roof on a small house for a young woman who had recently lost both of her parents.
They also had the chance to play a "friendly" soccer match with several Honduran players on one of the only full-size all-grass fields on the island.
They participated in pick-up games with children who played barefoot and used sticks for goals.
"Our kids had the chance to compete against teens and young adults on some smaller concrete courts as well as smaller turf fields enclosed by nets," Gruner said. "And they were able to watch an intense tournament final between two rival women’s teams, partially played in a thunderstorm, which involved a large crowd of cheering fans, and periodic firecrackers on the field."
Having the opportunity to travel to another country and experience first-hand the lives and culture of the people who live there made a deep impression on the M-S contingent.
"It was a great experience connecting with people in another culture through soccer," Van Wingerden said.
"It opened so many doors and people really welcomed us when they saw that all of us had the common love for soccer, no matter who you were or where you came from. It led to some great conversations."
"We had a Honduran girl, Yasmin, staying with the girls to help us translate and just to hang out with. She was learning English but she did teach me a little Spanish. It was such a cool experience to live with someone from a completely different culture, and I’d definitely do it again," added Longfellow.
Gruner said the main construction project the group took on was a roof replacement for a small two-story house. The project took several days to complete, and the group had to deal with intense heat as well as dodging several out-of-season rain showers.
"We were lucky that a couple of local guys, Frank and Loren, really knew what they were doing, and they helped us out when we needed it the most," said Gruner.
In addition to the soccer events and the roof project, other cultural and recreational aspects of the trip included dinners in family homes, a church service, reading, coloring, and playing with children at a playground, playing in a local league softball game, a zip-line tour and a dolphin swim.
"People would ask why we came all the way from central Illinois, and it was cool to say that we were giving back to someone in the community," DeHaan said. "The hours may have been long every now and then, and it wasn’t necessarily easy work, but looking back on it I’m really proud of what we all did, and I’m really glad I went on this trip."
Now that everyone is back in east central Illinois and preparing for their upcoming academic and athletic schedules, Gruner couldn’t help but look back and reflect on the value of the Honduran experience.
"My hope is that these guys and girls will be impacted in a way that will stay with them their entire lives. When you see and connect firsthand to how much of the rest of the world lives their lives, I would hope it generates a deeper appreciation for what we have in this country," Gruner said. "We emphasize that humans are humans everywhere, and they are no more a project or photo-op than you and I."