While the UCF football team hopes to take the Croke Park Classic in Dublin, Ireland by storm this Saturday, some athletes have already left their mark of black and gold on the green city.
UCF Athletics teamed up with Habitat for Humanity Ireland through its Knights Without Borders program just a few weeks before the season-opener to bring some TLC to the community, said Andy Seeley, assistant athletics director for communications at UCF. And for Maddy Schroeder, an outfielder for the UCF Knights softball team, her first trip abroad was more than a standard vacation.
"We're normally so wrapped up in our sport, it's hard for us to get a lot of opportunities to give back, so when our Athletic Department organizes something like this, we're all over it," said Schroeder, a senior sport and exercise science major. "It's important for anyone in general to give back to their community. … It was just a great way to make a social network outside of UCF, outside of the U.S., and give back."
Schroeder and the rest of the athletes spent their days 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. working to refurbish a community center in Dublin, about 10 minutes away from the stadium where the Penn State game will be held. Formerly used as a gym, the space needed to be revamped as a dance and Tae kwon do studio.
UCF athletes from cross country/track & field, rowing, baseball, softball and men's basketball were tasked with painting, weeding and dry walling — among other tasks — to refurbish the center in time for the Knights' arrival.
Jenna Marina, associate director of Athletic communications, said the purpose of the trip was to leave a lasting impression on Croke Park long after the football team heads home. She also enjoys that with each trip, the students are able to take something away, as well.
"Obviously I enjoy the community service aspect of it, but the other part of it that I really, really like is seeing how the athletes are changed seeing different cultures interacting with each other," she said.
When they weren't working hard, the volunteers were exploring hard, discovering all Dublin had to offer. In addition to the iconic sites of the city, the group visited Croke Park. And although a poster for the UCF versus Penn State game hung outside, inside an intense game of Gaelic football was underway — which Schroeder described as the most aggressive sport she'd ever seen.
Echoing the sentiments of Schroeder, Marina noted that the program is a good outlet to help students take a breather from their usual niches.
"A lot of times you get so ingrained with your own sports and your own team, and this is sort of a way for athletes to get to know each other," Marina said.
The athletes, she hopes, will continue to support each other on the court, field or track back in America. And maybe some newly converted Irish Knights will be waiting to cheer on UCF in the game of the season.
"I hope that people kind of took notice of what we were doing," Marina said. "I think we turned a lot of people into Knights fans while we were there."