GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (KELSEY TUREK, LYNDSEY YONKER) -- It's the summer of the World Cup in Brazil and one West Michigan soccer team is getting a taste of what it's like to play for the gold.
The Stars, a Special Olympic Area 12 (Ottawa and Allegan counties) soccer team has been chosen to represent the state of Michigan at the 2014 Special Olympic USA National Games. USA Games will take place June 14-21 in Trenton, New Jersey. The team won a gold medal at the 2013 Special Olympics Michigan State Soccer Tournament this past October, which qualified them to represent Michigan at the USA Games.
"[Going to the USA National Games] is exciting," said Coach Lyndsey Yonker, who is also a special education teacher for Grand Haven Public Schools. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most of our athletes and coaches."
The team consists of athletes whose ages range from 19 to 28. The members of the team include Eric Marlink (Jenison), Jonah Bylsma (Hudsonville), Traci Karsies (Holland), Ashley Condon (Allendale), Katie Cole (Grand Haven), Brandon Bucek (Grand Haven), Jacob Brye (Grand Haven), Megan VanderWall (Grandville), Nick Perry (Jenison), and Ashley Mokma (Grand Haven). The coaches are Brian Marlink (Jenison), Sandy Marlink (Jenison), and Lyndsey Yonker (Grand Haven).
"[I'm most looking forward to] the games! Bring them on! And the jet ride and hanging out with the team for a week," said Eric Marlink.
Ashley Condon added, "[I'm excited to] play as a team at the games."
The whole team is excited and ready to go, having worked hard over the course of the year. As for what they are most excited about, Ashley Mokma, one of the team's forwards, answered for everyone. "Just having fun," said Ashley Mokma. She also added, "I like to score goals, too."
The team has been practicing on and off all winter and is finishing its last preparations before they head out of town.
"Working with our athletes is the best part," said Yonker. "They have worked hard at practice since the beginning of April and are so excited to be representing the state of Michigan and their communities at the USA Games."
Among their preparations were once-a-week practices, a challenge to cut back on drinking pop, and a kickboxing class fundraiser held by the local Grand Haven fitness company Strength & Sweat to raise money for the team's travel expenses.
The team had a great time trying something new outside of soccer. "I thought [the kickboxing class] was awesome!" said Condon. "I loved it!" said Marlink.
The fundraiser ultimately raised over $200, which will go toward the total cost to fly the team out there.
The team leaves Saturday, June 14 from the east side of the state and arrives at the Games in New Jersey in the early afternoon. Their game schedule isn't solidified yet, but the team is excited to get to New Jersey and tackle anything that comes their way.
"[My goal] is that these athletes go out and have fun and play to the best of their ability," said Yonker.
If you would like to follow the team as they compete for a gold medal, you can check out their website at starssomi.weebly.com.