Kick for Nick: Soccer balls find their way to Honduran Special Olympians

More than seven years after the death of U.S. Army Pvt. Nick Madaras, U.S. Army Col. Thomas Boccardi, Joint Task Force-Bravo commander, still vividly remembers the night of the hero flight that carried the fallen soldier home from Iraq.

Pvt. Madaras was one of Col. Boccardi’s soldiers during a deployment to Iraq in 2006. He was killed by an improvised explosive device, Sept. 3, 2006, just a few months before his unit was scheduled to return home.

However, the young soldier’s legacy lives on beyond that dark night on a helipad in Iraq through others, such as Col. Boccardi, who continue to spread Kick for Nick around the globe. Through “Kick for Nick,” soccer balls are donated and distributed to underprivileged children around the world. The organization is run by Pvt. Madaras’s father, Bill Madaras.

“Bill Madaras refuses to let Nick’s memory simply drift off into the night,” said Col. Boccardi. “He’s making Nick a part of something bigger, something more. He’s already given his son the most precious of gifts. And yet he’s still giving more to this day. He’s an example of what being a great citizen is all about.”

Recently, Joint Task Force-Bravo partnered with the Honduras Special Olympics and the Honduran Air Force to host the Special Olympics soccer tournament at Soto Cano Air Base. During the festivities, Col. Boccardi personally presented soccer balls, donated by “Kick for Nick,” to each team competing in the event.

As he handed out the balls, Col. Boccardi recounted the story of Pvt. Madaras through an interpreter. When he finished speaking, Gracia Mendez, executive director of Special Olympics-Honduras, took the microphone and requested a moment of silence in memory of Nick Madaras.

“That moved me,” said Col. Boccardi. “It was akin to us standing out at that airfield in Iraq again. Everyone standing there in unison, heads bowed, remembering a fallen comrade. This was someone they didn’t even know, yet they cared about. That is exactly what Bill Madaras had in mind.”

“We’ve had ball donations before, but never with that kind of meaning behind it,” said Mr. Mendez. “The fact they were donated for that cause makes this so special. It doesn’t matter that we never met the soldier. We identify with the meaning and the cause. We know this is something very special.”

After the balls were presented, several of the athletes gathered around Col. Boccardi, asking to look at a photo of Pvt. Madaras that Col. Boccardi had shown while recounting his story.

“There is a sense of fulfillment from that,” Col. Boccardi said. “Nothing can ever replace Nick — nothing. But afterward, when they come up and are tugging on my shirt and wanting to see the picture of Nick, it means I get to pass on that lineage and that memory, and I realize it was a noble deed.”