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Paralympic Sports Clubs Military Sports Programs x

By John Kessel | Aug. 10, 2009, 12 a.m. (ET)

I traveled some this summer doing mostly weekend clinics around the USA primarily for coaches and PE teachers at the youth level. I journeyed from Lander, Wyoming, to Long Island, New York, and places like Phoenix for the newly relocated Volleyball Festival, and Atlanta for the Boy’s Jr. Olympics Volleyball Championships where my son was playing in the 18 Open. The stops that were the most inspiring were at Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island, and Brooke Army Medical Center/Ft Sam in San Antonio, Texas.

At “BAMC” I spoke on developing amazing leaders to all hospital staff, and then was able to take a tour of the Center for the Intrepid. At the Center, over half a million Americans donated to create a state of the art physical rehabilitation facility on the BAMC grounds, just a short walk from the hospital. A pool, a wave pool, rock climbing towers, kayak training and sitting volleyball are just part of the things there. The most amazing thing was a room where some 30 cameras in a full circle videoed the vets as they walked on different surfaces, climbed stairs, etc. to both better fit the prosthetics being used, and to give them feedforward on how to move. They said the one stabilizing system was so good, you could drop a ball point pen on the platform and it would make it stand up on end.

Then I spent a couple of days on base in Newport with over 50 wounded veterans as part of the Paralympic Military Sports program. Every athlete in the program has his or her own powerful story. They swam (it was my last time working with the great swimming Paralympic coach Jimi Flowers who also was there coaching), did track and field, table tennis, and sitting volleyball. We had base personnel playing, and even their children on the court as well, for the sitting game is a great “leveler,” allowing everyone to play safely and competitively, as you can see below. With about a third of these wounded warriors in wheelchairs, we play a modified version that lets them get involved, rather than sit and watch. Some great big smiles all around – more than once their physical therapists have commented that these training are the first time they see their charges smile so big.

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One of the heroes there was Chuck, who was being escorted by his father. When it came time for Chuck to train and play sitting volleyball, his dad started to push Chuck away in the wheelchair. You see, Chuck is missing both legs….and is partially deaf….and has a “TBI” – a Traumatic Brain Injury….and is blind. I stopped dad and explained that I would like Chuck to be our “designated server” after some training.

Kessel Blog

While a bit disbelieving, he brought Chuck to the training court and I explained what the plan was and what the court looked like. Then he started practicing with feedback on his accuracy from his dad and Roger Neppl. In short order, he was doing an underhand serve in with plenty of success, and brought to the competition court to do his role. In the end, he served some 24 of 25 in, and it could be argued well to blame the error on how one of us lined him up for that serve. We ended up rotating him in to play all the rotations when we played some balloon ball, and he would respond to his teammate’s calls for a skill action. I have included some pictures of him playing and inspiring us all.

From a Grow the Game perspective, you might be surprised to know that in the Dutch Sitting Volleyball division, the vast majority of the several thousand members are able bodied and just choose to take is a bit easier on their knees. They help in training the disabled participants, by making things gamelike for all wanting to excel and have fun at the sitting game. With this support, the Dutch men, despite not being from a war zone like the top teams of Bosnia and Iran, competed in the gold medal match of 1996. The Dutch women have medaled in both the 2004 and 2008 Paralympics. So we need everyone’s help in spending some time playing the sitting game with any area disabled athletes. Next month in Colorado Springs we will be playing our game as part of the Paralympic Sports Club formed by the city to help disabled kids and adults. You can find out more by visiting www.usparalympics.org/content/index/5119 You can also contact Elliot Blake, USAV Coordinator of Sitting Volleyball Development, at Elliot.blake@usav.org, and CLICK HERE to download a pdf on starting a Paralympic Sports Club.

Now that Bill Hamiter has been hired full time by USAV to head coach both USA National Sitting teams, and Elliot Blake is now in his second year of development, I will be limiting my time in the Paralympic discipline. It has been a wonderful journey, from producing the 1996 Paralympic Sitting Volleyball venue in Atlanta, to helping start the USA Sitting Women’s program with Mike Hulett and the bronze and silver medals won in Athens and Beijing. I will be still doing grassroots disabled programs, such as Special Olympics and the Deaflympic programs. I will now have more time to do grassroots programming, especially for youth through our RVAs and Affiliated Organizations. Mike Hulett, our four-time Paralympic Sitting Coach, will also be doing more grassroots programming working with a new facility in the Great Lakes RVA and if time allows, internationally as well, for he is an unparalleled ambassador for our sport, disabled or able-bodied, and for all ages. I know all of you will continue to be even better talent scouts for Bill as he works to enhance our National level Paralympic programs, and assist Elliot in the formation and development of Paralympic Sports Clubs for kids, veterans and all who are able, just disabled. It is the right thing to do, and is part of growing our sport for all.

This past weekend the Olympic Training Center was filled with FLAME (Finding Leaders Among Minorities Everywhere) kids learning leadership through sport, and they were led by Paralympian John Register. At the same time, several dozen wounded veterans competed in the State Games of America in various disciplines all over this city – vying for more than 6,000 gold/silver and bronze medals being award in 31 sports and hundreds of divisions. Volleyball was ranked #8 in total participation this year, and we went over our expected level by almost 50%. I signed up three indoor teams and Jeff did half a dozen grass and beach doubles teams on the morning of the event. Chuck was here in town competing… I saw newspaper photos of him throwing the shot and discus. Alas, I was too busy running the indoor volleyball venue in my role as Commissioner to get over to his venue to cheer him on. Nonetheless, I am sure he was inspiring others, while pushing his own limits in the spirit of sport. Next time an athlete says “I can’t serve it in…” let him or her know about Chuck…for he only said “Sure, let’s do it”…and with full effort and deliberate practice…did it.

Let us know any best practices you are doing to grow this side of the sport by leaving a comment, or get in touch with Elliot (elliot.blake@usav.org) or Bill (bill.hamiter@usav.org), or email me at john.kessel@usav.org. Thanks in advance for all you each do.

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