Playing in front of a tremendous crowd of over 650 fans that many high school teams would be envious to draw, the Morgan Stars Special Olympic Volleyball team, along with the Morgan High Volleyball team and coaches, displayed their volleyball skills in their annual exhibition game on Wednesday, March 21. “I’ve never seen such a packed house, and I have been to all of these games,” MHS Night Custodian Marlyn Taillon explained as she helped open the second set of bleachers to accommodate the swelling crowd.
“There is no better community, no better place to live,” Special Olympics Coordinator Joleen Kearsley commented. “I am speechless. I had tears in my eyes as the people kept coming in. I am proud to live here in Morgan.”
Every year, the MHS volleyball team, under the direction of Coach Liz Wiscombe, works with the Special Olympians, to play an exhibition Unified Volleyball game. A Unified game is when non-Special Olympic athletes join Special Olympic athletes to compete in an event. The MHS volleyball players play alongside the Special Olympians in the game coaching and helping the athletes.
Freshman player Quyncee Dorius commented, “I made so many friends working with this team. I learned to not give up and to always keep trying, and I always left feeling happy!”
Dorius’ feelings are mirrored by her fellow players and the coaches. Wiscombe shared, “This is one of the most fun things we do all year. I love the huge smiles. We all learn from these guys, definitely much more than we teach them.”
Coach Vicki Walker added, “The Special Olympians don’t judge each other. They love to come and love to be with their friends and each other. I love to come! Where else can I get a dozen hugs in just five minutes?”
For the athletes, this was their night to shine. They started off the evening with a display of skills and followed their skills display with several Unified games. The elementary-middle school teams began the night followed by the high school and post-high teams. Each player gave his or her all as the crowd cheered every effort and player.
Eighth grader Kiara “Kiki” Johnson, who was impatiently waiting to head over to J’s for a tangee as I interviewed her following the game, loves volleyball. “I love serving. I love the coaches, and I love playing with the volleyball girls. They are all my friends. I see them at school, and they invite me to their house.”
Her father, Jason Johnson, added, “The community support is so amazing. It huge for the kids!”
Freshman Allen Shaw, who eagerly invited the crowd to join him in cheering during the game, explained why he loved the evening. “It was great. All the crowd was cheering on me, and I really appreciate them helping me get through it.”
Master of Ceremonies Gary Weitzeil kept the game lively with his commentary and engagement with the crowd and athletes. “I love these kids, I love the coaches, volleyball and this community,” he noted. “I love this event and am so happy to be here tonight. This is the best entertainment in town!”
Michelle Herman, a former MHS volleyball player on the ’99, ’00, and ’01 state championship teams, was one of the many fans supporting the Special Olympians. She observed, “I am not surprised at all to see Coach Wiscombe and her team involved with Special Olympics. She has one of the biggest hearts in the world.”
“Coach Wiscombe not only teaches my daughter volleyball,” Denette Charlton, mother of current freshman player, Hadlee Charlton, explained. “She teaches her how to be a better person and gives her opportunities to be involved in great events like this.”
Wiscombe is quick to deflect the praise back to her team, the Special Olympians and the community. “We live in an amazing community with amazing support and are able to play tonight with even more amazing athletes!” she concluded. “And these fans out here tonight are amazing! I know for the high school kids, it doesn’t end here tonight. These are the kids in the hall who are putting their arms around the special needs kids every day.”
Joleen Kearsley summarized the night. “I am so glad the community came to support our special friends. They realize when they see our special friends doing something they love to do that they aren’t all that different.”
“On the athletes’ shirts tonight is says ‘Play Unified, Live Unified,” Kearlsey continued. “This is a reminder for all of us. We may be different, but we can come together like tonight and play unified, and then we can live together, realizing that different is ok, and we can live more unified.”