The first week Karen Van Eck’s seven-year-old daughter, Ireland, told her she had a stomach ache right before soccer practice, she thought nothing of it. Yet, as the season progressed, Ireland kept faking a stomach ache to evade attending practice. When Ireland delivered the excuse again for the third week, Van Eck knew something was wrong.
“At first I took it at face value that I was pushing her. But then I began to wonder ‘Why would a child attending school regularly without any problems burst into tears claiming to be sick right before soccer practice?’” she said.
Van Eck said she eventually took Ireland off the team because her daughter felt overwhelmed by girls that had started playing earlier than she and was confused about many of the rules.
As the leader of Brownie troop 338 — the second youngest age group in the larger Girl Scouts of America — at Northside Elementary School, Van Eck suspected her daughter was not alone in her anxiety about sports. Van Eck acted immediately by contacting the Michigan women’s varsity soccer team and asking the team to visit her troop of girls in the first to third grade.
She said the women involved in the soccer team represented the mission statement of the Girl Scouts, which is to build character and success for young women that can be applied in the real world.
“I’m trying to come up with ideas where they encounter strong women, so I contacted the sports department where (Assistant Coach) Dan Dalzochio was receptive from the start,” said Van Eck.
Van Eck’s vision was realized on Friday when eight members of the women’s varsity soccer team led drills in fundamental soccer skills, such as dribbling, shooting and passing, in the school gymnasium with Van Eck’s troop.
Within the allotted hour, the soccer players encouraged the brownies to engage in games that stressed athleticism as well as teamwork.
There were a few minor setbacks that were quickly resolved. Ireland’s fingernail split in two after she bumped into another Brownie. However, after a carefully applied Band-Aid and a pep talk from a varsity player, Ireland was ready to join the game again.
Another heated moment arose when one Brownie accused another of handling a ball and thereby disobeying the rules of “Sharks and Minnows.” Before an argument could ensue, Education junior Therese Heaton dissolved the tension by yelling, “We’re all winners!”
More than instilling fundamental soccer skills, the players sought to be positive role models for the girls. “I want them to see everything they can do. With MTV, they see the belly buttons and the cleavage — these are the role models they have,” Van Eck said.
On top of being a Brownie troop leader, Van Eck, the mother of five children, also attends the University, where she is a senior in the School of Nursing.
“From my nursing angle, it is important to get the girls to love to exercise. Michigan is one of the fattest states and we need to change this,” she said.
The soccer players bestowed individual attention on each member of the troop.
“I was impressed how they remembered everyone’s name,” she said.
Diane Sisk, mother of Alexandria Sisk, came to watch the event and was impressed by the talents and character of the soccer players.
“It’s really neat for these people who set goals for themselves and accomplished them. These girls are proof that you can work hard for your goals and achieve them,” she said.
Members of the women’s soccer team agreed that their interaction could yield positive results.
“I think there are a lot of little kids that want to play soccer but are too scared. We want more of these kids to take on the sport and come to our games,” LSA freshman Lindsey MacDonald said.
For others, the event was a trip down memory lane. “I was in Girls Scouts until fifth grade. It’s a great place to be. I had fun today, because it was nice to reminisce,” Music School sophomore Katelin Spencer said. During the traditional closing ceremony, Spencer realized she still remembered the Girl Scout promise and recited it with the other Brownies.
The soccer players also received rave reviews from their students. “They were really nice and fun. They were the best teachers ever,” said third grader Savannah Middleton.
This activity was the last step toward being awarded a sport try-it, a three-pointed badge given to brownies to sew on their vest after completing tasks concentrated in a specific area. Other activities that merit try-its involve health, art, selling cookies, math and international games.
Van Eck said that she only received positive feedback from the players and that another collaboration between Girl Scouts and the soccer team might be in the near future.