By Barrett Neale
Senior Day is coming early for one member of the Stevenson University men's soccer program.
Kyle Kauffman, who has spent the past four seasons as the team manager, will start the Mustangs' game Oct. 23, when they host Hood College. Kauffman has cerebral palsy, and he said that although the physical challenges did not affect him much day to day, he thought they would prevent him from playing his favorite sport at the college level.
Mustangs coach John Plevyak had a different plan in mind.
"There's no disability as far as we're concerned," Plevyak said. "The fact that he's getting to play hasn't caught anybody by surprise. Everybody's just real glad it's happening."
Plevyak reached out to Hood coach Brian Wall last summer, when they were working at a camp in Pennsylvania, and showed him a video about Kauffman, which some Stevenson students had made for a school project in 2010.
In the video, Kauffman said: "I would love to be playing college soccer right now, but [God] has a bigger plan for me. It's just something that I've accepted."
That quote inspired Plevyak to try to get Kauffman on the field during a game, and Wall agreed. Kauffman said his parents would be traveling from Lancaster, Pa., to see him play, and he was looking forward to the game.
"I knew we were talking about it, but I honestly didn't think anything would happen," Kauffman said. "Not that I didn't believe Coach when he told me, but I didn't think it would actually happen."
Kauffman's involvement with the Stevenson program began four years ago, when he was visiting the campus. Jeff Kelly, who is now Stevenson's dean of students, was showing him around, and Kauffman mentioned that he was the manager for the boys' soccer team at his high school.
"[Kelly] asked me if I wanted to do it here," Kauffman said, "and I said, 'Sure, I would love to do it here.' He called coach Plev that day, and then before I even got home, Plev had left a message on my cell phone saying that they wanted me to come."
Plevyak, then in his second season at Stevenson, said the timing had been perfect, because he had been looking for a team manager. He gave Kauffman the option to move in a week early to be with the team for the preseason, and Kauffman agreed. Plevyak said Kauffman also came with the team on a trip to Italy in 2010.
"He has a good work ethic," Plevyak said. "He jumped right in and did whatever we had to do, and asked him to do, and we've been buddies ever since."
Senior captains John Adamo and Brad Davis said everyone on the team was glad Kauffman was getting to fulfill his dream of playing at the college level. They said Kauffman was an integral part of the team, not just in keeping track of cones, pinnies and balls, but spending time with his teammates off the field as well.
"Whenever we were not together with soccer, we were always together off campus," Adamo said, "whether it was going out to get food at our lunch place up here or it was going out anywhere. … I'm so glad that he's still here with us, because I think his character can show everyone else some strength, the mental strength that it takes to overcome something like this."
Davis has spent time with Kauffman in the classroom as well, because they are both public history majors.
"I didn't know too many people on the team [as a freshman], but he was one of the first people on the team that came up to me and introduced himself," Davis said. "We've been close ever since then."
Kauffman said there was a real sense of community on the men's soccer team.
"We're basically like a family," he said. "We all have different things we bring to the table, and we all make it work. We always have fun together. It's just a great atmosphere with the guys. I feel really close with all of them."
Kauffman said he had a lot of good memories from the four soccer seasons, particularly when the team won the Eastern College Athletic Conference South championship in 2010.
"It's been a great four years," Kauffman said. "It's one of the best times of my life that I've had, so it's been great and I'm going to miss it a lot."
More Cheap Seats:
• Kyle Kauffman Will Get To Fulfill Soccer Dream
• Unitas And Mann Headline State Hall Of Fame Class
• Jennings Goes Ironman For Brigance Brigade
• Veteran Goalie Thornton Returns To Alma Mater
• Blast Pitch In To Help School Shooting Victim
• Stevenson Will Play Host For Jumbo D-III Tourney
Issue 178: October 2012