Team teaches skills to young fans



By Kate Munson

For most college students, Saturday is a day to sleep in late. But the No. 23 Illinois volleyball squad spent Saturday morning giving back to their young fans at the second annual Family Fun Fest event at Huff Hall.

The Networkers, the community fan support group for the Illini volleyball team, sponsored the event, which was designed to connect players with the community and boost Networker membership.

But the event went beyond the goals of the Networkers. It was also about teaching volleyball skills to local kids.

“The players really like being involved with the kids and kind of helping them learn a little bit about volleyball,” Networkers President Craig Pessman said. “Some of those kids end up coming to camps during the summer, so it’s a nice way for interaction.”

The family-oriented event gave participants an opportunity to learn new skills and get acquainted with their favorite Illini.

“I really like to get to know the players, and it’s just a lot of fun to play some volleyball,” 13-year-old Sierra Ewing said. “It’s really nice to get to know the players on a different level.”

Kids had their faces painted and even got to take a group picture with the Fighting Illini squad. What stood out to many of the young fans was the opportunity to play volleyball with their favorite Illini.

The team shared its expertise with the participants at skills stations for passing and serving.

“I had a lot of fun, and I learned some new skills, and the players are really nice,” 10-year-old Grace Peacock said.

Peacock has also been to University of Illinois volleyball camps and added that sophomore setter Hillary Haen, who had worked with her at the camps, is her favorite player. Eventually, she hopes to be a setter just like Haen.

While Haen never had an experience like the Family Fun Fest when she was that age, she said she would have enjoyed it.

“I think this would have been something super fun to come to when I was little,” Haen said. “I would have really enjoyed playing with the players, talking with them, getting to know them, learning some skills too.”

Junior libero Ashley Edinger enjoyed the opportunity to give back to the fans.

“It means a lot coming here because these kids really look up to us. It means a lot to us too because they come out to support us, and we want to give them a good influence in their life outside of school and home and to show them that there are great things you can do out there with your life,” Edinger said. “We enjoy it. We like to bring a good influence to the kids and just help them with volleyball.”

The event wrapped up with an autograph and photo session with the Orange and Blue for the young attendees.

After the event, head coach Don Hardin reflected on the opportunity it allowed his team.

“Even though this is a challenging time for them academically with all the traveling we’ve been doing, they really do enjoy the time with kids. It’s kind of stress relief for them in some ways,” Hardin said. “For us, we’re reaching out we’re taking care of our fans, our younger fans that come to the games and our families. But really we’re doing it for us too. It’s enjoyable, and it’s good for our players.”

Edinger agreed that the event was a positive experience for her.

“It just makes you smile knowing that kids look up to you and you can be a really big influence in their life,” Edinger said.