Oles honor Wetterling before win

The men’s soccer team wasn’t wearing its typical black and gold on Saturday –instead, it opted for red.

Prior to their homecoming game, the Oles took to the pitch and honored Jacob Wetterling and his hope for the world by donning crimson warm-up jerseys with the number 11 imprinted on the back.

Wetterling, a child growing up in St. Joseph, Minnesota, was kidnapped from his hometown at the age of 11 on Oct. 22, 1989. His disappearance remained a mystery for nearly 27 years until Sept. 6, 2016, when Daniel Heinrich confessed to kidnapping and later killing the young man. These recent developments have had a profound impact on the hearts of many Americans, with Minnesotans feeling particularly somber.

Wetterling, an avid sports fan during his life, always wore a red number 11 jersey as a child. To show a commitment to making the world a better place for kids, the Wetterling family asked athletic teams to use the number 11 as a symbol of hope to honor their son and raise awareness about missing and exploited children.

“I thought that wearing the red shirts to honor Jacob Wetterling provided a touching tribute to a young boy who was unfortunately targeted,” forward Henrik Kowalkowski ’17 said. “It really makes you think about the pain the parents must have endured, not knowing what happened to Jacob in the ensuing years.”

The Oles are not alone in their sentiments; many sports organizations including the Minnesota Twins and Vikings have poured out support for Wetterling’s family and the cause. The response from students across the state has been particularly strong. Along with St. Olaf, the University of Minnesota and several Twin Cities high schools have paid tribute to Wetterling since the tragic report broke early this month.

“The boys were all in when they found out we were going to honor Jacob and support his family at our game,” team manager Scott Perkins ’17 said. “Just a great group of guys on and off the field.”

The homecoming game itself ended in a 2-0 victory for the Oles over conference rival Concordia on the back of two early goals by Kowalkowski, who was later named the MIAC Men’s Soccer Athlete of the Week for his strong efforts on an emotional day. It was the first conference win of the season for the Oles, who now have an overall record of 3-1-3. Kowalkowski attributes the win to the power of the jerseys in uniting the team in a single cause.

“The team really enjoyed wearing the shirts and I think it brought all of us a little closer together as well,” Kowalkowski said.