‘Harry’s Game’ at UNCW raises awareness for children with special needs

Seahawk Men’s Soccer team hosts High Point University for annual event
UNCW men's soccer team to host annual 'Harry's Game'
Updated: Apr. 7, 2022 at 3:30 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The UNCW Men’s Soccer team will host High Point University for a game Saturday night at the soccer stadium on campus. But it’s not your normal spring season matchup. The evening marks the annual Harry’s Game, named in honor of Seahawk Head Coach Aidan Heaney’s soon-to-be ten-year-old son Harry, who has Down syndrome. The event is meant to raise awareness of children with special needs, showing how they deserve chances to do and enjoy things other children enjoy.

“When Harry was born, there was another coach, Andy Fleming, the head coach at Xavier University, and his daughter is slightly older than Harry,” Coach Heaney said about how the UNCW tradition began. “He started a game in Cincinnati, and it was so well received. I just said, ‘Hey, I think it’s a great idea. Would you be okay, if I kind of jumped on and kind of piggybacked and copy what you were doing there?’ He obviously said ‘Yes’, and that was kind of how the seed was sown, so to speak.”

Since that first Harry’s Game in 2013, a year after Harry was born, some of the most successful in-state collegiate programs including Wake Forest, North Carolina, N.C. State and Duke have come to town to be part of this special event. This year, former UNCW assistant and current High Point Head Coach Zach Haines brings his Panthers back to familiar territory.

“I think it’ll be nice for him to be back, and he’ll be on the scene in a different way,” Coach Heaney said. “The game will be competitive, we want that to be the case for both teams. But you know, when it comes down to it, we’re going to have the players mingle and they’ll be helping with the clinic beforehand, the UNCW and High Point players, so they’re giving back as well. It gives them a kind of insight that there’s more to just playing a college sport. There’s a bigger message and a bigger impact that we can have as a collegiate soccer team.”

Coach Heaney said he is touched every year by the community’s response to the event. Organizations and businesses have donated food for the players and families. There will be a bounce house for children to enjoy, along with face-painting by artists. There will special Harry’s Game jerseys worn by the UNCW players that fans can bid on to take home as a souvenir of this year’s game. The atmosphere, the energy, the smiles, are from more than soccer.

“From a personal standpoint, also for our players and our program and our team, just seeing the groundswell and the outpouring of love and kindness from our community,” Coach Heaney said. “It really touches the heartstrings, for not only me and my wife and our family. But I think for a lot of the families in town here who maybe have a child that’s not your typical child. The biggest message or the biggest impact I think we can have is, if people can come out spend time with our children and our families and see that, you know, they’re no different. They want to be loved. They want to experience things in life, and hopefully people are more accepting and more aware of what young children like that are like, and then the world will be a better place. So, in some small way, hopefully we’re able to do that.”

The events begin at 4:00 p.m. Saturday with warm-ups and an on-field clinic featuring the players from both squads. The game begins at 6:00 p.m., with events for families happening all around the soccer stadium. Admission is $5 for adults, and children are free. Proceeds are donated to local organizations that work with children with special needs and their families.

For more information on Harry’s Game, click here.

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