Coach Andy Fleming couldn't be more proud of Devin's Game.
For the sixth year in a row, Xavier's soccer team will play in the Sixth Annual Down Syndrome Awareness Classic when they take on Bradley at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 29, at the XU Soccer Complex. All tickets are $5 with a portion of the proceeds benefitting Devin's Team as part of the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati Annual Buddy Walk.
The game is named after his 5-year-old daughter Devin Fleming, and he and his wife have championed the cause since Devin was born with Down syndrome in 2011.
We caught up with Coach Fleming and asked him a few questions about the game, how it began, and what's next for the event.
How much does it mean to see all members of the Xavier community—athletes, students, faculty, staff, etc.—continually come out and give such support to the cause?
It melts my heart. I can say that the first few years the whole night was too much. I wanted to play well and win, I was afraid no one would show up, I worried about the weather…and to be honest it made me feel a bit sad about Devin. However, the event has really taken off and runs itself and has shifted to a more celebratory feel for my wife, Amy, and me and how blessed we are and how special Devin and her “village” are as well. The support staff at X and really the entire city go above and beyond. It truly embodies to me Xavier, Cincinnati and the Midwest…open, friendly, warm and giving.
Other than the game’s first kick, are there any special traditions you and Devin take part in before or after the game? How special is that first moment?
A few. Getting Devin to concentrate and kick the ball gets easier each year but is still a bit of a wildcard (laughing). Each year she’s a little more locked in and in tune with her surroundings, to the point where you can see last year she ran to the stands and waived after the kick. Last year we had her in the locker room before the game and she ran out with the team which was great. Devin is happy and our guys are wonderful with her. This is always the final game of our spring and our parents do a tailgate at the end with cake for Devin and several picture collages of Devin.
What are some of your favorite memories of the games over the past five years?
I think the fact that the game itself is in demand and being able to draw perennial Top 25 programs and two teams coming in as reigning national champs has been neat soccer-wise. To me, in 2012 seeing that people actually showed up warmed my heart and really empowered us to move forward with it…to the point where this past year we had our annual meeting for the game and you have about 10 people in the room and local TV, journalists, advertising companies, etc., helping wave the flag, it's truly become an event and is suited perfectly for a city of Cincinnati’s size. However my one most favorite part is how it's come to be known as Devin’s Game…that’s what everyone calls it and it's truly all about her. I love hearing that and I love how appreciative everyone is of Devin and how aware of Down Syndrome my world seems to be on April 29.
You’ve always had great competition for this event. Where do you see in the future for Devin’s Game? Bigger and better? More visible teams and bigger crowds?
The date is tricky as we have to do it in conjunction with the Blue Chip which is late and many schools are into finals and can't play us. We’ve been trying to get Indiana in but they do a game with Mexico U20 team on same weekend which has hurt. We have considered offering a cash guarantee to attract an out of region opponent as well. To me the most prominent vision I have is Devin one day speaking to the crowd before the game and then interacting with the crowd and carrying on conversations with them. I also have visions of her helping organize the event, sitting in the meetings and bringing younger special needs kids to the game and making them part of the night as she grows older and becomes a steward/champion like some of the role models she/we have now.