By Travis Tekiele, '13 | May 8, 2013
Melissa Walton, a senior associate athletic director for Albion College, has taken on a new challenge during this spring semester—coaching the Special Olympics Area 19 volleyball team from Jackson County as it prepares for the state games at the end of the month.
Walton has been trying to have a volleyball team represent the area in the Special Olympics, but there weren't enough players until this year.
“My aunt worked for the national [Special Olympics] office in Washington, D.C., so I have been working for Special Olympics since I was 5,” says Walton, “but this is my first time working in this area.” Walton ran the powerlifting event for the Special Olympics when she worked at Central Michigan University.
Each Monday night, the eight members of the team are brought to Kresge Gymnasium for a two-hour practice. It normally starts with running laps, then transitions to brief passing drills with partners, and eventually leads into a scrimmage.
Some Albion College varsity teams have been willing to attend the practice and scrimmage against Walton’s Olympic squad. For one practice, the entire varsity men’s soccer team visited to scrimmage against the team, and the next week, it was the women’s soccer team who volunteered a few hours of their time.
During practices, most of the players are paired with a volunteer who helps them get to the correct position on the court. When scrimmaging, every player on the floor (including the volunteers) is smiling, laughing, and genuinely having fun.
Along with the laughter and smiles, Special Olympics holds an obvious sense of encouragement. One player named Thomas can be seen running to tell the nearest coach that he just made a great play on the court, and in response the coach always smiles and says something along the lines of ‘Yeah, I saw that! Great job, Thomas!’ and sends him back to his position.
Only two coaches are allowed to accompany the team at the state competition at the end of May, although there have been numerous volunteers who have helped at every practice and will travel to the state competition on their own accord. Jalyn Ingalls, '14, and Melissa Wilson, '15, both members of Albion’s varsity volleyball team, will be the two official coaches who attend the competition with the team. However, there have been more volunteers who have attended every practice, including Briton athletes Nicole Romain (softball), Emily DeWaters (basketball), Mikaela Bromley (basketball), and head women’s varsity basketball coach Doreen Carden.
“Just to see their excitement after they do something successful is the best thing in the world,” says Ingalls. “I love to see them light up and smile when they accomplish something new.”
Ingalls said she has been interested in working with these athletes ever since she attended a Special Olympics event during her first year at Albion. In addition to her involvement with the Special Olympics volleyball team, Ingalls’ commitment to service is reflected in her role as president of Albion’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Through SAAC leadership, Briton student-athletes have logged 2,300 hours of community service during the 2012-13 academic year.
When asked about their favorite part of playing on the volleyball team, three of the players said in unison, “It’s a lot of fun!” Unlike most teams where some tension may occasionally develop between players, especially over the course of a long season, this team does not show the slightest hint of that. They give high-fives and encourage each other after every play, even when someone makes a mistake.
Walton’s team will have eight practices before it travels to the state competition at Central Michigan May 30 through June 1.