The Special Olympics Unified Onslow County volleyball team was really just a group of people with and without intellectual disabilities who liked to play the sport and were interested in getting better. They didn’t have any competitive games scheduled or tournaments to play in. Out of the blue, the team got a call and was invited to play in the USA Volleyball Open National Championship in Louisville, KY. a few weeks later they were at one the largest national championship tournaments in any sport in America, and ready to face off against teams from all over the nation.
Once the team got to Kentucky, they were put into a group with teams from Arizona, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, and were ready to hit the court.
Dawn McCullen, the local coordinator for Special Olympics Onslow County, said “it was a fantastic experience; the athletes had a wonderful time. The event was the US Open nationals, so we got to see MIT play, as well as an over 70’s team. They were amazed at the range of people who were there.”
Although the team did not bring home a medal from Kentucky, they got a lot out of the experience.
”The experience of getting out there and seeing other teams was great. We all learned a ton from seeing teams in action. There is only so much the athletes can learn from watching on television, seeing volleyball skills in person helps for them to learn,” explained McCullen.
While the team was in Kentucky for the tournament, they visited some attractions around the city. They visited the Louisville Slugger baseball complex and Churchill Downs, which is the home of the Kentucky Derby. At the track, they saw a horse race and even had the chance to meet some of the jockeys.
“Before we even got off the court, the athletes were talking about going to Phoenix, AZ where the next national tournament is,” McCullen said. “They want to recruit some more people to play with us, and start a practice schedule. They really want to win a medal the next time they compete.”
It is amazing that one phone call can change the future for a group of athletes. Without the invitation to the USA Volleyball Open National Championship, they may never have made the transition from recreational players to competitors leaving it all on the court to win a medal. Next year in Phoenix the group’s newfound motivation will hopefully pay off with some gold medals coming home to Onslow County!