Sports are a universal language, blending people from many different places, and Ball State senior Parker Swartz found that out during his trip to Brazil with Athletes in Action (AIA).

Swartz competed in volleyball with the USA Team as part of the FISU America Games in Sao Paulo, Brazil. While off the court, he visited a juvenile center and an orphanage. 

Though a language barrier existed for Swartz, who took French in high school but never Spanish or Portuguese, he was still able to bond with both the opposing players from various South American countries and the children his group visited.

“It was a life-changing experience to create that world community through sport,” Swartz said. “It has that special ability to bring people together from all different walks in life. It was cool to generally get to know all these people and know their cultures, families, struggles.

“I think that’s kind of how we create the love and respect the world needs.”

Swartz was given a chance to put himself in the shoes of the people who live in the impoverished neighborhoods of Sao Paulo, and at the same time he and his group were able to put some of the kids in shoes of their own.

Part of the community service efforts included visiting an orphanage and giving the children tennis shoes — a first-time experience for some. Parker said their reactions are something he won’t forget.

“Just to see their faces light up and having a collegiate athlete from the United States come and hang out with them and just talk to them and get to know them, you could see it just totally meant the world to them,” Swartz said. “That meant a lot to me that we were making a difference in their lives.”

On the court, Swartz and the rest of the USA Team didn’t fare too well, losing in three sets in each of the three matches against Brazil, Chile and Mexico. But that was a valuable experience for the outside attacker, who is inching closer to the beginning of his senior season. With Swartz being one of three seniors on the team, he’ll be looking to step into a leadership role this year, and the struggles on the court in Brazil taught him a valuable lesson about composure.

“It was a lot of focus and trying to stay composed on the court and be a leader, for me. I thought that was a good test and an opportunity for me to show encouragement with my teammates and just enjoy the experience,” Swartz said.

Ball State men’s volleyball head coach Joel Walton said every team needs a leader, and he hopes this opportunity will help Swartz take on that role by utilizing what he learned in Brazil this summer.

“Parker really finished strong last season, I thought he was playing as well as we’ve seen him play, so I’d like to see him come in and his level of play continue to be toward the top of his potential. If he is willing to take over the leadership of our team and be somebody we can look to for consistent performances on the court, … that’s really a good thing.”

Contact Nate Fields with comments at nefields@bsu.edu or on Twitter @NateNada.