Story courtesy of Mark Bankert, Malone University Associate Athletic Director and Sports Information Director
Canton, Ohio - Malone University alum Stacy
Messner would be the first to tell you that sometimes life is
hard. And often, very hard. Especially when you are
hard of hearing and, in Stacy’s case, to the point of being
legally deaf. Having to deal with just this your entire life
would be difficult enough. Yet, Stacy’s story of trial
and tribulation does not stop there – not by a long
shot. But her story is also one of perseverance and
Stacy was born deaf but her parents did not realize it until she was about three years old. Because of this, she quickly, even at a very young age, learned to read lips in order to communicate. All during her grade school, junior high and high school years, she learned to overcome her disability by utilizing this important skill. And although her life was much more difficult than most kids, in other ways it was the same. Like others kids, Stacy enjoyed sports and got very interested in soccer.
Residing in Green, Ohio, Stacy was a four-year letter winner as a goalkeeper on the Green High School girls soccer team and closed out her career as one of the best players in the program’s history. As a junior, she was a Second Team Suburban League selection and then, as a senior, earned First Team Suburban and All-District honors while also being voted a team co-MVP. Stacy also held numerous school records including career shutouts (27), single-season shutouts (15) and single-season goals-against average (.47). In addition, she also holds the record for least goals allowed in a season (6). Stacy helped her team to the district championship in both 2004 and 2005 and was part of a team that won a regional championship against the #1 team in America, Walsh Jesuit, in 2005. In addition to her honors for outstanding play, Stacy was also named an Akron Touchdown Club All-Star (sportsmanship award) in 2005.
Then, in the fall of 2006, Stacy came to Malone and was the starting goalkeeper for the Pioneers as a freshman. Malone had
a very good season, with a 12-6-3 record, while Stacy, despite
her deafness, continued to play well and posted an impressive .85
goals-against average, five shutouts and 168 saves on the
season. In addition, she was part of a Pioneer squad that
made it to the NAIA Region IX/X semifinals, losing in a penalty
kick shootout to NAIA #5 nationally-ranked Houghton (NY)
Her freshman year at Malone was an important one to her in more ways than just on the soccer field and in the classroom. It was that year that Stacy drew close to the Lord. “I gave my life to God while I was a freshman at Malone,” Stacy recalls. “And the bible verses that made the light bulb go off for me were Romans 12: 1-2. In verse 1, it says ‘offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God’ and in verse 2, ‘do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’. These two verses really gave me a peace and a new closeness to God. And as it turned out, I would really need this even more so before my Malone career was through.”
But with the greater academic demands in college, coupled with her disability, making it even more difficult to participate in intercollegiate athletics, Stacy did not play for the Pioneers after her freshman year but rather started to help coach within the Green Youth Soccer program. Since that time, she has helped with the U-10 through U-14 teams, working specifically with roughly 30 goalkeepers. And she has also served as an assistant varsity coach for the Green High School girls team the past few years.
But if the difficulties of being legally deaf were not enough
for Stacy to deal with during her time at Malone, two family
tragedies during her senior year gave the struggles she was facing
at the time a whole new meaning. On November 22, 2009, during
the Thanksgiving break of her senior year, Stacy’s father
died of a massive heart attack. Her father, who had been
divorced from her mother since Stacy was 10, was the primary
caregiver to her grandmother, in whose home the family was
living. And not only did her dad take care of her
grandmother, who was bedridden, but he was also raising
Stacy’s three sisters, Christie and Marissa, who were in high
school and grade school, respectively, at the time and Maria, who
just returned from doing some short term missions work in South
Africa. In addition, the developmental challenges that
Marissa has had since birth made the caregiving in the household
all the more difficult. But now, suddenly, in addition to
having to deal with the loss of her father, all this additional
responsibility fell squarely on Stacy’s shoulders.
The upcoming final examinations that she would soon need to take to close out her senior fall semester now seemed unimportant, yet she knew that she somehow needed to handle both her schoolwork and her new responsibilities at home. So, with the blessings of a flexible Malone faculty, Stacy moved home and started the process of commuting to school to obtain her degree.
But then a second family tragedy occurred on April 26, 2010 when her grandmother died from complications of the stroke that she had about 10 years earlier. And with this occurring on the first day of final exams during the spring semester, the loss of her grandmother was compounded by all of the pressures that come with finals week in college.
Again though, with the patience, understanding and flexibility of her professors at Malone, Stacy was able to finish those final exams and she went on to officially earn her degree in Sports Management (with a minor in coaching) in the spring of 2011.
Now, the next chapter in Stacy’s life was about to play out – but she didn’t know exactly how it would unfold. Then, one day in April 2011, she saw an article in an Ohio North Youth Soccer Association newsletter that got her really excited. The article was about the U.S.A. Women’s National Deaf Soccer Team and how they were going to be having tryouts again for the squad.
With all of the responsibilities and pressures that she had been
dealing with over the past number of years, Stacy knew that it was
time that she did something for herself. But, even though she
had been coaching for the past three or four years, she
hadn’t been playing competitively. “Could I do
it?,”, she asked herself. By her own admission, she was
a bit overweight and somewhat out of shape. She had even been
in a walking boot for a while after a case of planter fasciitis.
So, getting back into playing shape would be no easy task.
So Stacy started playing a bit more and proceeded to lose 30 pounds since early last summer in preparation for her attempt at making the team. She went to an initial tryout last summer in Pittsburgh, just to see what it was all about. She was introduced to the new coach of the team and received information she would need to participate in future tryouts.
After working on her game and dropping the needed weight, Stacy went to a tryout in Georgia to battle roughly 35 other players in an attempt to make the cut to just 25 players. Athletes from all over the country were there including one professional player, Felicia Schroeder, who has been playing in Finland and Sweden the last few years. Schroeder , a member of the team for a while now, is one person who Stacy could certainly admire since Felicia was a tremendous player despite the fact that she speaks very little and is difficult to understand, needing a sign language interpreter to communicate with people.
With many outstanding players on the team, two of whom were stellar goalkeepers, Stacy made the decision to try out as a forward, a position she had also played in high school. The decision paid off as she made the cut to 25 athletes. But there was still one more big step that she had to take.
Before she could punch her ticket to Turkey, Messner had to survive one final cut from 25 to 20. Those who made the cut would represent the U.S.A. Women’s National Deaf Soccer Team at the World Deaf Football Championships in Ankara, Turkey from July 10-21. Those who had already made the initial cut of 25 but would not be in the final 20 would be official members of the team but would not be on the travelling roster.
The final hurdle in making the traveling team occurred during the weekend of April 26-29 at the Columbus tryout held in the Columbus Crew stadium prior to the Crew’s MLS men’s soccer match. Messner did enough to impress the coaches and earn her spot on the travel roster. Little did she know, the best was yet to come.
Messner was honored and privileged to represent her country in international competition. Making the traveling roster was a huge feat in itself but when she and her teammates began to roll through the competition they figured they could be on the verge of greatness.
The U.S. would eventually earn a spot in the gold-medal game against Russia and Messner would go on to score the match’s only goal, bringing a remarkable end to her incredible journey of perseverance and determination.
“I feel so blessed and honored to be able to accomplish my dream of playing in the World Deaf Championships,” commented Messner. “My time in Turkey, representing the United States, was amazing. It just shows that no matter how hard life can be and how hard the challenges are, you truly can accomplish anything you want with the support of those who love you. You just need to stay positive and work hard.”
As she reflects upon her recent experiences, Messner also considers Title IX and the impact made by women who went before her. “If it weren't for Title IX, little girls like me would never dream of playing overseas, let alone actually accomplish it,” noted Messner. “Title IX allowed me to dream. It allowed me to have an event like this to compete in and provided opportunities for women with disabilities. I use sports to teach my players about the ups and downs of life, working hard and overcoming adversity and I can’t image my life without sports and competing. I know soccer made a huge impact on who I am today and how I was able to overcome my challenges.”
Messner and her teammates will return to international competition this summer at the Deaf Olympics in Bulgaria.