COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (April , 2016) – Led by the Director for Sport Development, John Kessel, about 50 Denver-area teens received a first-hand experience in sitting volleyball on Friday, April 1.

Through the Playmakers Program, a collaborative effort between the United States Olympic Committee and the Foundation for Global Sports Development, the students experienced a variety of Olympic and Paralympic sports during a three-day trip to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, including sitting volleyball.

Kessel and other staff members provided the students with a crash-course history lesson in U.S. Sitting Volleyball and the Paralympics, highlighting the U.S. Women’s Sitting Team’s recent gold medal at the Intercontinental Cup in Anji, China, before allowing the students to experience the game for themselves.

“I like any sport you put me in, so this has been a lot of fun,” said Samuel Leishman, a sophomore at Love Christian Fellowship High School in Denver. “This one has things that are easy, but then making sure you’re getting to the ball can be hard.”

Leishman had Olympic ambitions before coming to the Olympic Training Center. The 16-year-old’s left leg was amputated above the knee shortly after his birth, but he hasn’t let the disability slow him down; he played basketball and baseball growing up before discovering wrestling.

“I really love wrestling and I want to stay with it,” he said. “For me, I don’t see myself as having a disability or anything.”

Inspired by Anthony Robles, an NCAA Division I wrestling champion, Leishman said he’s set a goal of making the 2020 Olympic roster – wrestling is not currently a Paralympic sport – but he’s not ruling out sitting volleyball.

“Sitting (volleyball) is really fun,” he said. “It’s a lot of hand movement and I’m used to hand moving. Now that I’ve been here, my mind is more focused than ever on reaching my dreams.”

In addition to hosting the teens, Kessel and other staff members led about 30 participants from USA Swimming’sSwimBiz conference in a sitting volleyball tutorial on Thursday, March 31.

“Everyone knows volleyball, and (these clinics) are the easiest way to get a person of any age to see things from a disabled perspective,” Kessel said. “The part I think is most important, though, is it gets everyone to become talent ID scouts for all Paralympic sports, not just volleyball.”

USOC Recognition
The U.S. Women’s Sitting Team received one of three nominations by the United States Olympic Committee for best Olympic or Paralympic team in the month of March following its gold-medal performance at the World ParaVolley Intercontinental Cup.

Other nominated teams are beach volleyball pair Kerri Walsh Jennings and and the U.S. Women’s Senior National Water Polo Team.

Ricks, Holloway participate in California tournament
Travis Ricks (San Diego, California) will see a longtime dream realized on Saturday when he, U.S. Women’s Sitting Team athletic trainer Patrick Lawrence and San Diego’s Adaptive Sports and Recreation Association host a sitting volleyball tournament.

Ricks, a member of the U.S. Men’s Sitting Team, worked closely with Lawrence and ASRA to organize the Genuine Volleyball Club– hosted event, which also serves as a fundraiser for the local sitting volleyball program.

“We’re hoping to raise enough money to send a team to the USAV Open National Championships,” Ricks said. “ASRA has just taken (the sitting volleyball community) in and they are awesome and supportive.”

About 10 teams currently are registered, including one led by Katie Holloway (Lake Stevens, Washington). There is still room for additional teams; both disabled and able-bodied athletes are welcome. Registration is $120 per team (with a maximum of seven players), or $20 for individuals, who will be placed on a team.

Sitting athletes lead at OTC
U.S. Women’s Sitting Team outside hitter Nichole Millage and former U.S. Men’s Sitting Team captain Brent Rasmussen gave a 90-minute tutorial to 25 businessmen on Tuesday at the Olympic Training Center as a part of ongoing efforts to grow the sport of sitting volleyball. 

The pair, along with John Kessel, taught participants from Arkema, an international chemical company, sitting volleyball basics before leading the group in a scrimmage as a part of Experience To Lead’s Team USA program.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but everyone was very friendly and willing to participate,” Millage said. “Since breakfast I’ve been talking to people and they were all really interested in what we do and wanted to know more about the Paralympics. They had a lot of questions about Rio (de Janeiro).”

In addition to learning sitting volleyball, the group will spend time this week learning leadership skills through other Olympic and Paralympic sports such as shooting and curling. Participants also will talk to staff psychologists and coaches, but Rasmussmen said he sees the exposure to sitting volleyball as a major perk of the program.

“I know it’s not (the primary reason) they’re here, but now we have that many more businessmen around the world who know what sitting volleyball is,” he added. “The more people that know (the sport) are the more people that are aware of what we’re trying to do in the Paralympics. I think the growth is really finally coming along.”