Perfect Match

Story by Yasmeen Elayan | Photos contributed

In the heart of every soccer match, amid the cheers and determined faces, there exists a profound reminder of the strength of the human spirit. For the ETSU Men’s Soccer team, this reminder comes in the form of an 11-year-old teammate named Landon Ward.

Landon was born with spina bifida, a condition affecting the formation of the spine and spinal cord before birth, and organized sports seemed out of reach for him. But sometimes, the true essence of triumph goes far beyond the scoreboard. Landon’s parents, Jason and Sandy, revealed that their son survived 10 surgeries and defied medical odds by learning to walk.

“Landon’s journey has taught us to be grateful for every moment and find strength in adversity.”

Jason and Sandy, Landon's parents

Landon’s love for sports is undeniable, and Team IMPACT, an organization connecting children facing serious illnesses with college sports teams, stepped in to make his dream come true. Landon signed a National Letter of Intent in September to become a member of the Buccaneer program and proudly wears the No. 40 jersey.

“Each time we see Landon, we get a big lift, and that resonates with us,” said former coach David Lilly. “There’s always going to be adversity, but we’ve got to keep responding the best way we can. We want to make Landon, the university, and this community proud. The team’s commitment to each other and what they’ve accomplished both on and off the field is extraordinary.”

Landon Knack walks on field at Summers Taylor Stadium with an ETSU Men's Soccer Player

Landon Knack walks on the field at Summers-Taylor Soccer Stadium.

In a world often defined by rivalry and competition, Landon’s story serves as a reminder that kindness can be a powerful force.

“Coach Lilly and the men’s soccer team have been so wonderful and gracious. Their willingness to treat Landon with love and respect and letting him spend time as ‘one of the guys’ is something that he, and we, will never forget,” said the Ward family.

That journey reached a pinnacle when the team clinched the regular-season Southern Conference Tournament title. With just three seconds left on the clock and the score tied, the Bucs gave fans a nail-biting finish against Mercer to secure the winning goal, resulting in their first regular season SoCon title since 2017. 

The Bucs’ season with Landon is a reminder that life’s victories aren’t just measured in wins and losses but in the transformative and profound impact 
we make on each other’s lives for a greater purpose.

“Sometimes you lose sight of what’s really important in life, and that’s trying to be the best version of yourself,” said Lilly. “We’re blessed to have each other, and there’s a bigger picture here than just wins and losses. It’s taught us to be kind, and we’ve built a culture of compassion where each player looks after the other.”


Read more incredible stories in the Winter 2024 Edition of ETSU Today. #BucsGoBeyond

ETSU Today | Winter 2024

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