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Devin's Game has become a special tradition for the Xavier University men's soccer team

Down Syndrome Awareness Classic enters sixth year
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Posted at 6:00 AM, Apr 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-17 06:00:34-04

CINCINNATI -- Devin Fleming, 5, is a full-day kindergartner who loves to sing, dance, read and watch "Peppa Pig" and "Frozen" on the family iPad.

She's also the namesake of the Xavier men's soccer team's annual spring game.

Devin's Game, or the Down Syndrome Awareness Classic, is in its sixth year. Musketeers coach Andy Fleming and his wife, Amy, have championed the cause since Devin was born with Down syndrome in 2011.

This year's outing pits the Musketeers against Bradley in an April 29, 7:30 p.m. showdown at XU Soccer Complex. Admission is $5, and a portion of the proceeds benefits Devin's Team as part of the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati's annual Buddy Walk.

Devin will continue the Classic's tradition by kicking out the first ball.

Xavier University men's soccer head coach Andy Fleming

"Our vision down the road is for her to say 'thank you' to the crowd in the microphone, and later have her walk into the crowd and connect with the fans," Andy Fleming said. "She also comes into the locker room and 'says' a few words to the team before they go on the field."

The spring game has generated close to $70,000 since its inception. It also has afforded Xavier quality offseason competition. Former opponents have been elite programs: Michigan State, Northwestern, Akron (twice) and Notre Dame.

Bradley has a rich history, too, although the Braves have not enjoyed much success of late. Bradley ascended to the Elite Eight in 2007 and has made three NCAA tournament appearances since 2010, but it hasn't had a winning season since 2013. The 2016-17 team went 2-15-3 (0-7-1 MVC) and lost or tied its last 12 matches.

Xavier soccer, meanwhile, has carved a niche on the national landscape under Fleming. The program has been to four NCAA tournaments in the past seven years, including the 2014 Sweet 16, and cracked the national rankings' Top 10 three times.

The Musketeers started the spring season with a 3-1 loss to perennial powerhouse Indiana and a 3-2 loss to FC Cincinnati before defeating Wright State 2-0. Xavier tied 2016 Elite Eight team Louisville 1-all after the Cardinals scored the equalizer with one minute left in the teams' April 7 match.

Devin's Game rounds out Xavier's spring slate.

"We're looking for a great atmosphere in the stands, awareness for Devin and her peers, and on the field a steady and consistent start to finish," Fleming said.

Xavier went 8-8-3 (4-4-1 Big East) last fall and lost to Creighton in the conference tournament. Seven starters and 20 letter winners return next season, and the program will be even stronger in the fall with the addition of two midfielders. Fleming and his staff recently landed marquee transfers Simen Hestnes and Sean Wilson.

Hestnes started his college career at LIU Brooklyn and was the Northeast Conference player of the year in 2016. Wilson was the nation's No. 3 prospect in 2015, but struggled to find playing time on a North Carolina team that reached the 2016 College Cup.

Devin's Game drew more than 1,200 fans last year, and as many as 1,723 in 2014 against Akron.

The other children in the Fleming family -- Braden, 7, Quinlan, 4, and Fiona, 2 -- will be on hand again to root on Devin and the Musketeers. The Flemings are familiar fixtures among all Xavier's teams: Many Musketeers athletes participate in the Buddy Walk.

Shannon Russell is a freelance sports analyst and columnist for WCPO.com. Follow her on Twitter at @slrussell.