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Paralympians Competing on Same Court as Olympians

By Bill Kauffman | May 23, 2015, 2:21 p.m. (ET)

Kevin Barnett (blocking left), a 2000 and 2004 Olympian, training with the U.S. Men's Sitting Volleyball Team on Saturday morning in preparation for the Sitting Volleyball Division of the USA Volleyball Open National Championships

DETROIT, Mich. (May 23, 2015) – Olympians and Paralympians are joining forces in Detroit giving sitting volleyball a platform for greater exposure and respect among the volleyball communities.

Sitting volleyball will conduct a championship division during the USA Volleyball Open National Championships with both Olympians and Paralympians competing with against one another for the first time in a formal tournament. The championship will take place May 25-26 at the COBO Center in Detroit.

“Our sitting volleyball program is excited to have the Sitting Division at USAV Open Nationals for the third year in a row,” said Katie Holloway (Lake Stevens, Wash.), a two-time Paralympic Games silver medalist with the U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team. “And this year is even bigger because Olympian Kevin Barnett is going to be the first Olympian to join us in competing in a Paralympic sport competition.”

Related Links: USAV Open National Championships | Sitting Volleyball | NORCECA Men's Champions Cup

Barnett, a member of the U.S. Olympic Men’s Volleyball Team in 2000 and 2004, is familiar with the sitting volleyball discipline, but this event marks the first official tournament he has played sitting volleyball.

“I’ve played in a dozen demos of sitting volleyball with the National Teams going back to 1998,” Barnett said. “The game is fast paced and a terrific amount of fun. I’m looking forward to playing for real points in a tournament and competing. My knees may not work like they used to, but my shoulder still has life left. Look out sitting division!”

Barnett will be competing for Net Live, a volleyball podcast he hosts, which includes three Paralympians. A total of 10 teams will be competing in the Sitting Volleyball Division with some using a mix that includes able-bodied and Paralympians while some teams will be entirely composed of able-bodied athletes.

Other teams in the Sitting Volleyball Division include both the U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Sitting Teams, the U.S. Sitting Team A2 feeder program, Air Force teams and other able-bodied participants including Penn State Men’s Volleyball Assistant Coach Jay Hosack, 2015 AVCA Men’s Volleyball All-American Cody Kessel from Princeton and Cuban Olympian Lazaro Beltran.

"The reason this tournament is so important is because it shows the United States and volleyball fans that Olympians and Paralympians live in the same world, we all compete for Team USA. Paralympians just compete in a different way."

Along with the Sitting Volleyball Division at the Open National Championships, sitting volleyball gained further respect from the current U.S. Men’s National Volleyball Team. The squad, which is in Detroit competing in the NORCECA Men’s Champions Cup through Saturday, set aside part of its training time on Friday to play a set to 10 points against the U.S. Women’s Sitting Team. Players from each team gained added respect for each other.

“It was so much fun playing against the silver medalists of our U.S. Women's Sitting Team,” U.S. Men’s National Team libero Erik Shoji (Honolulu) said. “They were gracious enough to stop their practice to teach us about the game and how to play it! What was fun was trying to figure out how to move around the court and playing the ball without taking our butts or back off the court. After failing at that a few times we realized how challenging and exciting the sport really was! It was also personally very fun because I got to play front row! Being able to play a few minutes with this team was the highlight of our day!”

“It was great having the opportunity to meet and play against our Men’s National Team,” said Heather Erickson (Fayetteville, N.C.), captain of the U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team. “We don’t always have the opportunity to be around each other. We just get to cheer from computer screens and televisions. So it was a great opportunity to spend some time sharing in our passion and playing some good competitive volleyball. It really feels like we are all one big team fighting for the USA. We all have the utmost respect for what each other has done and accomplished. The guys killed it for it being their first time playing sitting volleyball, so huge props to them! Rio - watch out - USA Volleyball is ready to compete!”

Admission to the Open National Championships, including the Sitting Division, is free.

Related Athletes

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Katie Holloway

Sitting Volleyball
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Heather Erickson

Sitting Volleyball
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Erik Shoji