Aug. 23, 2009
DeKALB - The Huskie men's soccer team picked up its first big win of 2009 Sunday, when Northern Illinois Associate Vice President/Director of Athletics Jeff Compher announced that it had won the NIU Challenge of Champions.
In its second year at NIU, the Challenge of Champions pitted all 16 Huskie teams, plus cheerleaders and Huskie interns (student-athletes still on campus who have no remaining eligibility), against one another to see which group could perform best off the field. Teams received points based on excelling in the NCAA CHAMPS / Life Skills five commitment areas: academic excellence, athletic excellence, personal development, career development and service.
Huskie student-athletes, cheerleaders and interns totaled over 4,000 community service hours through the Challenge, in addition to pursuing activities that will enhance their academic and professional sides. Teams also earned points for grade point average, supporting their fellow student-athletes at their competitions, and participating in the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC).
After finishing second last season, the men's soccer claimed the 2009 crown, just ahead of women's in second, and women's track & field/cross country in third. The men's soccer team won $1,000 for the team, while women's golf picked up $250 and the track team earned itself a pizza party.
Senior forward Ben Thomas said the experience was more about showing the community that while they support the Huskies by attending games and cheering for NIU, the Huskies also support the community.
"We've taken the leadership role the last couple years to go out and help the community because our fans help us win on the field," Thomas said.
Among the community service done by Thomas and his teammates were working a the Lincoln Elementary School Fun Fair, serving at the Corn Fest Relay and volunteering at "Think Pink," a breast cancer awareness event held at a women's basketball game.
"All the teams were at that event, and being around everybody in the Huskie family helping out with `Think Pink' made a big statement for NIU as a whole," Thomas said. "I know a lot of athletes who have parents or know someone that has gone through breast cancer. To see everybody come together for the same reason stuck with me."
For Thomas, the Challenge of Champions not only offered an opportunity to serve the community, but also helped he and his teammates develop as leaders.
"It says a lot about our program and our coaching staff, reflecting how dedicated we are to becoming leaders on and off the field," he said.
The men's soccer team can begin its title defense Monday, August 24, the first day of classes.