UTA volleyball players hold clinic for Special Olympics athletes

Posted Sunday, Jul. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Chris Curtis approached the net, his right arm raised in the air.

In one swift motion, he spiked the ball, sending it flying to other side of the court.

“Nice job,” shouted Ashley Bennett, a junior at the University of Texas at Arlington and middle blocker for the school’s volleyball team.

Curtis, 30, is a longtime participant in Special Olympics. On Saturday, he and about 100 other athletes from DFW’s Special Olympics brushed up on their volleyball skills at a free clinic at UT Arlington’s College Park Center.

Through drills, athletes worked on the fundamentals — passing, serving, hitting and playing defense. UT Arlington volleyball players and coaches helped lead the sessions and offer encouragement and advice.

“These are the exact same drills we use in our gym every single day,” head coach Diane Seymour said. “It’s all about fundamentals.”

The first-time clinic is part of UTA’s growing partnership with Special Olympics. Last year, the athletic department offered a golf clinic. When it decided to try volleyball, interest was so high that the university had to cap enrollment.

For Curtis, who lives in Arlington and has intellectual disabilities, the reason was simple.

“Volleyball is the best sport. It’s my favorite,” he said. “It’s a team sport. You have to work as a team to get anything done.”

Raymee Haas, 35, of Arlington, has competed in the Special Olympics since she was 9. She swims and plays basketball, but volleyball is her top sport, too.

“There is just something about the game that I love,” said Haas, who also has intellectual disabilities. She said that she wanted to improve her passing skills.

Haas and Curtis are members of the Mansfield-Arlington Community team, which in 2007 traveled to China to compete in the Special Olympics.

Ross Steele of Arlington, a member of the same team, said he plays volleyball for the fun and camaraderie, but also the medals, of which he has more than 100.

“We have fun, but we really like to win,” said Steele, 32, who has Williams syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder. “We hope this clinic can help us win more medals.”

Watching from the sidelines, Kim Cleary, one of the team’s coaches, paid close attention to the drills so she could replicate them at their own practices. Cleary became involved in Special Olympics when her son, Brice, now 28, took up the games as a boy.

“Our kids were so excited to learn from some of the best volleyball players around,” Cleary said. “And really, they were just thrilled to have someone other than their mothers coaching them.”

Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056 Twitter: @sarahbfw

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