In the United States, we’re not only serious about watching sports – consider the recent Super Bowl – we’re serious about wanting our kids to play as well.
More than 21 million kids in the United States between the ages of 6 and 17 played sports on a regular basis in 2011, with another 5 million playing occasionally, according to a survey by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
Some children can’t play sports due to physical disabilities and miss out on the camaraderie of activity with friends as well as the thrill of competition.
The Triangle Volleyball Club in Morrisville is trying to change that. On Sunday, March 8, the club will host a special adaptive Youth Sports Clinic at the Raleigh Convention Center, featuring sitting volleyball, Goal Ball (for the visually impaired) and one other adaptive activity. It’s free and open to the public, although advance registration is required.
Sponsoring adaptive play is nothing new for the Triangle Volleyball Club. The club, now in its fourth year, hosts free sessions at its facility the second Sunday of each month from September to May from 2 to 4:30 p.m. (There isn’t a March session because of the event in Raleigh.)
“We have people of all ages attend with different levels of disability – traumatic brain injury, amputee, spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy and spina bifida, to name a few,” says Jenna Hinton, assistant director of the club and coordinator for its sitting volleyball program.
There’s no cost to play. Everyone plays sitting on the court, able-bodied or otherwise. In fact, many of the club’s youth, between the ages of 8 and 18, volunteer for the Sunday sessions. The first half-hour is spent going over the rules, and the rest of the time is spent playing the game.
“Our standing volleyball players get a lot of enjoyment from playing sitting volleyball because it’s fun,” says Hinton. “They demonstrate skills, and we have enough people to make teams. It’s actually a pretty diverse group – really young, older people, people with disabilities, our members who don’t have disabilities; it’s a way of connecting the two groups of people together.”
The biggest challenge to date has been simply getting the word out, especially to kids whose parents might be reluctant to let them try sports. Hinton hopes the March event will encourage a big turnout.
“We know the kids are out there, but because of a lot of privacy issues, all we can see is a dot on a map of where these kids go to school,” Hinton said. “But you don’t know if it’s 10 kids at that school or one kid or how old they are.
“We know they’re out there, but trying to reach out to them is difficult,” she said.
The outreach effort dovetails with the club’s mission to grow both body and mind.
“The founders of our club were educators so we’re trying really hard to instill different character values alongside the fun of playing a sport,” Hinton said.
For the kids who volunteer, Hinton said, many are excited they’ve found a way to help someone else.
“We have barriers, and we feel like if someone is in a wheelchair we can’t go up and speak to them and ask them what they like to do and do they like to play sports, but that’s our common ground so we’re trying to be advocates,” Hinton said.
“We’re very lucky we can do this with our kids because the light bulb just really goes off in their heads,” Hinton said. “In their minds, they’re helping someone when they sign up, but when they get here they’re having fun, they’re making new friends, and they’re raising awareness within themselves.”