Sitting Volleyball Yields a Patriotic Avenue for Vets
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (May 27, 2013) – Two passions are intersecting on a volleyball court smaller than the standard indoor court as current and former United States service members are being exposed further to the game of sitting volleyball on Memorial Day as the USA Volleyball Open National Championships Sitting Volleyball Division begins in Louisville.
Dan Regan, a member of the U.S. Men’s National Sitting Volleyball Team, joined the Army National Guard in 1994 and served in it until 2003 when he was moved to active service through 2005.
“When I joined the Guard, I felt it was something I needed to do,” said Regan, who was injured in a boating accident while on active duty. “Like the military, I am still representing our country on the Sitting National Team and it is in a nice, fun way.”
Regan was first exposed to sitting volleyball in 2006 as part of his physical therapy following the accident. That initial exposure quickly turned into a passion, like love at first site.
“When I was introduced to the sport, I fell in love with it,” Regan said. “I wasn’t very good at the time, but I made a commitment to join the team and it created a passion for something.”
While a handful of members of the current U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Sitting Volleyball Teams are part of five teams comprising the Sitting Volleyball Division of the National tournament, it is the service members and other new members to the team who are benefiting the most from this week’s playing opportunity.
Jese Schag, who was in the Marines from 2008 to 2011, was injured in a motorcycle accident in June of 2009 leaving him without legs. After heading to a Rhode Island sitting volleyball clinic in 2009, he has been a quick study in learning the sport.
As part of the United States Olympic Committee’s Wounded Warrior Games, Schag found he could excel in sitting volleyball. At the inaugural Warrior Games in 2010, he and the U.S. Marines won the sitting volleyball title and repeated the following year in 2011.
“I am planning on moving to Oklahoma City and train full-time with the U.S. Sitting Volleyball Team,” Schag said. “It is my goal to continue training with the Sitting Team and make it to Rio to play in the Paralympics.”
John Kremer envisioned a career in the U.S. Navy as young child after going up near a navy base. That dream became a reality in July 2003 that started a nine-year tenure in the U.S. Navy. However, his duty was interrupted in 2010 when he stepped on a land mine while serving in Afghanistan. Only 12 days prior to his injury, he became the proud parent of a now three-year-old daughter.
And despite the injury to his legs, Kremer can still place the USA Flag on his chest with pride through sport. He started competing in sitting volleyball at the Warrior Games for the U.S. Navy under the coaching of Rik Mullane. That competition led him to a spot on the U.S. Men’s Sitting Volleyball A2 Team and a chance to continue representing the United States.
“Basically we are doing the same thing in playing sitting volleyball versus the military,” Kremer said. “The job is different, but you are representing your country wherever you go.”
Kremer sees the opportunity to represent the country on the court as a sweet opportunity.
“It would be awesome to be part of the National Team and help it in any way possible,” Kremer said. “It would be sweet to go to Rio and wear that American flag again.”
Like Kremer, Schag believes that it would be satisfying to again represent the country as he did for the Marines.
“We are still supporting our country, but now through sports,” Schag said. “Everyone is injured at the Paralympic Games. Obviously I don’t have a chance to go to the Olympics in my condition, but the Paralympics is the next best thing.”
The sense of military community, especially on the men’s side of the U.S. Sitting Volleyball program, has allowed the team to bond in ways that others without the military connection could not understand.
“We have great camaraderie with our teammates,” said Regan, who said one of his proudest moments was winning the 2011 USA Volleyball Male Sitting Volleyball Athlete of the Year award. “We are a tight-knit group. It was nice to earn the recognition that I did, but in team sports, it takes everyone.”
Mullane, who retired from the Air Force with 20 years of service, met U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Sitting Volleyball Program Director Bill Hamiter through USA Volleyball’s Coaching Accreditation Program (CAP). With his work with an Adaptors program in San Antonio that involves all branches of the military, he has helped identify potential U.S. National Sitting Volleyball Team players through the South Texas Volleyball Academy that includes injured service members and able-bodied individuals from the local San Antonio community.
“Our goal is to find guys who can help our National Team program and build up the A2,” said Mullane, who also works with the Sitting Team’s A2 program. “We need a feeder program much like that of the indoor National Teams.”
The feeder program into the National Sitting Volleyball Team is one aspect in helping the sport prosper. However, the creation of the Sitting Volleyball Division at the USA Volleyball Open National Championships has the opportunity to expose the sport further to a wide audience that includes able-bodied individuals who can also enjoy the sport.
“Our main goal for this event was just getting the sitting division going,” Hamiter said. “We need to make sure the Regions and other entities are aware of the competition as a way to play. I was just talking with a Canadian coach and he said he may be able to bring a couple teams for next year.”
Hamiter lauded the efforts of the U.S. National Sitting Volleyball Team players taking part in the Sitting Division with the emphasis being placed on the newer players.
“For our National Team players, they are supporting our mission here in Louisville in an effort to grow the game so more people can enjoy it,” Hamiter said.
Kremer has been like a sponge taking in as much as he can from the experience in Louisville during the USA Volleyball Open National Championships.
“I have loved this experience,” Kremer said. “There are a lot of the National Team players here and I am learning a lot about the game and the pace in which they play it. The atmosphere here has been great with people who have never seen seated volleyball before. Now we get to share that experience with them.”
The U.S. Men’s National Sitting Volleyball Team faces a major hurdle later this year. The team hosts a World Championship qualification event in October at Edmond, Okla., with the goal of obtaining a spot in next year’s World Championship in Poland.
“As part of the quadrennial, it is important to make sure we qualify this year for the World Championships in Poland next year,” Regan said. “That is our most important tournament of this year.”