Aug. 22, 2014Grassroot Game Has A New Meaning For The Irish
Monday, Aug. 25 7 p.m. (ET)
Live video broadcast (free):
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Monday's exhibition finale against Wisconsin will mark the 11th straight season the University of Notre Dame men's soccer team has held a game to benefit Grassroot Soccer, but this year's affair will have a new meaning for the squad.
Grassroot Soccer (GRS) is an international non-governmental organization that uses the power of soccer to educate, inspire and mobilize communities against the spread of HIV. GRS has a special connection to the Notre Dame program as Dr. Tommy Clark, the eldest son of Irish head coach Bobby Clark, is the founder and CEO of the organization.
Bobby Clark, who is entering his 14th season on the Notre Dame sidelines, is familiar with the areas that are getting hit hard by HIV. The Fighting Irish head coach was the Director of Coaching for the Bulawayo Highlanders in the Zimbabwean Super League during the 1983-84 season.
"Tommy was about 13 years old when I coached in Zimbabwe and after he graduated as an undergraduate from Dartmouth, he went back to Zimbabwe and many of the youngsters that were on his team had died from HIV and I think that made a big impact on him," Clark said. "When Tommy went back to medical school at Dartmouth he was asked to do a project to help the public at large and he conjured up this idea of how soccer could help educate young Africans with life skills. Grassroot Soccer grew out of that. Since it (GRS) has grown so much, he's not doing as much pediatrics any more, he's doing a lot of fundraising and a lot of work in sub-Saharan Africa."
Anyone familiar with the Fighting Irish men's soccer team knows GRS holds a special place within the program. Along with hosting the annual GRS game, the team routinely warms up in the organization's signature yellow t-shirt in order to raise awareness for the cause. The players and coaches also participate in GRS events on campus.
While raising money and attention is tremendous, Notre Dame's involvement with GRS took a major leap forward this summer when the team ventured to Zimbabwe for three weeks. In addition to competing in games, the coaches, players and support staff were able to get hands-on experience with the organization. Witnessing firsthand what GRS is doing in Africa allowed the group to see the cause from a different point of view.
"We didn't just see it when we were down there (Zimbabwe), we did it," fifth-year senior and team captain Andrew O'Malley said. "This (Grassroot) game certainly means a lot to everyone who was there. Even the people who weren't there have seen the videos and we talk about it all the time. We'd really like to make a good showing this year at the Grassroot game and hope it can make even more of a difference."
Admission to Monday's match between No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 21 Wisconsin is free and donations for GRS will be accepted at the Alumni Stadium gate and throughout the game.
"We now know what we're contributing to," Clark said. "I think I always did, but the boys weren't quite as aware of it. They knew it was a good cause and they enjoyed playing in the game. Now that they've seen it up close, they realize that soccer can help with the poverty and other problems in Africa. It can help teach the Africans about how to deal with HIV and how they can avoid getting it. The first thing is preventing them from getting it, but if they do have it, then it's about how they handle it."
Monday's encounter comes nearly nine months to the day that Wisconsin visited Alumni Stadium for a second-round matchup in the NCAA tournament. Notre Dame used a 4-0 win over the Badgers to ignite its run to the national title.
"Wisconsin is a good team and they will test us," Clark said. "We'll look at our starting group for a little bit of the game and then we'll play some of the other guys. It's very important that we have a deep squad especially with the schedule we play."
The battle with the Badgers will be the final tune up for the Fighting Irish before they open the regular season next weekend against two highly-ranked former BIG EAST foes at the adidas/IU Credit Union Classic in Bloomington, Ind. First up will be No. 12 Marquette on Friday and then the Irish will face No. 9 Georgetown on Sunday.
-- Sean Carroll, Assistant Athletic Media Relations Director