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Soccer-playing seminarian connects with Monmouth kids

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Life is a ball for a former Bloomington man on the soccer field. But it's not what you think.

Fundamentals on the field also offer lessons about life.

This is a workout for the body on a steamy summer morning.

"You have to get low," said Chase Hilgenbrinck, addressing a group of kids on the Monmouth College soccer fields. "You have to move your feet. If you don't move your feet, you're dead."

It's also a workout for the spirit.

"In our daily lives, we have to move our feet," he continued. "We have to be thinking at all times. We have to be attentive."

This is the Immaculate Conception Spiritual Soccer Camp. Youngsters are learning about keeping sports in perspective with Hilgenbrinck.

"I realize that I have to practice what I preach," he said. "I have to practice perseverance. I have to sacrifice just like everyone else."

That's because Hilgenbrinck made the unusual transition from professional soccer player to seminary student. After five years of competing all over the globe, he's now two years away from becoming a priest.

"I want to be an example for these kids in their lives," he said. "An example like I wish I could have had on the soccer field."

It's actually not too hard to find a bond between faith and futbol. This soccer-playing seminarian finds a way to connect with kids.

"He really does connect with people, especially kids," said Ryan Cunningham, 13, who attends Immaculate Conception School in Monmouth. "He's really nice, and he's really fun, too."

Hilgenbrinck is spending the summer at the Monmouth parish before returning to seminary studies in Maryland this fall.

He combines soccer strategy with twists and turns youngsters face in day-to-day life.

"We have to sometimes play defense against our enemies," he said. "Sometimes we have to play offense and go after our goal."

Youngsters even get reading assignments to reinforce the field work.

"It's pretty interesting to see how everything can tie together like that," said Maddy Gavin, 13.

Lessons about life and sports that involve discipline, sacrifice and teamwork. As the future priest puts it, winning and losing with class.

"I'm still giving back to the game," he concluded. "I'm giving back to my faith."

At this camp, it's a workout to last a lifetime.

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