NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Soccer standout Ben Kreider finished his four-year career at Newton High School with every intention of continuing in his sport at Bethel College – just not right away.
Instead, the 2010 signee deferred for one year. He took off for Albuquerque and a term of Christian service with a program of Mennonite Mission Network called Service Adventure.
“I wanted to take a year off from the beaten track of schoolwork and academics,” he says. “I wanted some different life experience and service seemed to be a good way to find that.”
Service Adventure is geared particularly for post-high school young adults, with the aim of giving them a 10-month experience of service, learning and spiritual growth. Participants live in community with other young adults and a house leader at various locations around the United States.
Kreider looked at several Mennonite-sponsored programs before choosing Service Adventure. “It seemed that this would meet me where I was,” he says. “I didn’t know if I was mature enough or had enough language [skills] to go to another country. And even U.S. locations give lots of opportunity for growth.”
Plus, he still hoped to play soccer. Albuquerque was his first choice – both with the promise of soccer opportunities and the job placement he was offered.
He worked in a homeless shelter called St. Martin’s Hospitality Center.
“I was a shelter assistant,” he says. “I did a wide variety of things, from sorting mail – it’s very important for people to have a valid mailing address – to sitting at the front desk and helping people find contacts for other resources to sorting clothes to giving out food.
“What I liked best was being around a lot of different people and getting to interact with them.”
He also had a great soccer experience that came about through “serendipity,” he says.
His Service Adventure unit leaders knew “some guys who played pick-up soccer in a park. I went there to join them. After a while, most of them left, and I was there with a few guys, just shooting, knocking balls around. A group of Hispanic guys rolled in and started playing. So I went over to talk to them.”
When these players learned that Kreider was new to the area and looking for a team, they invited him to join their league. So he spent nine months playing on two teams in Albuquerque’s Hispanic league, the only Anglo on either team.
“I was the large, white center defender,” he says.
Language both on and off the field was mostly Spanish, which Kreider had studied some. Communication on the field wasn’t much of a problem, he says, because “soccer is a universal language” that he found easy to figure out.
Doing a year of service between high school and college was “the right decision,” Kreider says. “I gained skills and experience in a real-world setting. I learned about living with other people in a community, which ought to come in very handy for dorm living. I was formed in my faith and able to ask some tough questions.
“The world opened up,” he says, “in terms of work, church and what life is like.”
Kreider plans to spend the rest of the summer mowing lawns with Neufeld Lawn Service of North Newton, counseling at a couple sessions at Camp Mennoscah near Murdock and, of course, playing soccer, this time with the Bethel Summer Soccer League.
“I’ll be getting in shape for soccer,” he says – his intercollegiate career begins with the advent of two-a-days in mid-August. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Kreider, a center midfielder, was a four-year letter winner and three-year starter for the Newton Railers. He was team co-captain in his junior and senior years. As a junior, he was All-League Honorable Mention in the Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Division 2 and in his senior year he was All-League 2nd Team in the AVCTL.
In 2009, his senior season, Kreider helped lead the Railers to a record of 16-3 and both league and regional championships.
He was also a four-year letter winner in track, in which he was a member of a state championship team and a state medalist in the 4x800 relay.
In addition to his athletic accomplishments, Kreider finished high school with some noteworthy academic achievements, including being named a National Merit Commended Scholar and an AP Scholar with Honors (after earning the highest possible score of 5 on four Advanced Placement exams).
“We would have liked to have Ben last year, but anytime someone is thinking of doing a year of service it’s important to support that,” says Bethel head soccer coach Jason Moore. “It’s important in the growth of one’s faith and so closely tied to what Bethel College and the Mennonite faith are all about.
“We welcome Ben back with open arms and look forward to helping him pick up his soccer career right where he left off. He’ll come with a little bit more maturity than the average freshman and that’s something we can use both on and off the field. I’m sure he’ll be eager to share some of the experiences he picked over the past year and that he’ll jump right in with both feet.”