By Caden Ebeling, '21
From May 30 – June 1, the Area 16 Special Olympics volleyball team, along with many other teams from around Michigan, gathered at Central Michigan University for the 2019 summer state games. This year Area 16 was able to form three teams, a modified team, a traditional team, and a unified team. Albion men's basketball teammates Caden Ebeling and Jaylin Fordham, and Albion volleyball player Chloe Webber served as partners for the unified team.
Being a partner for Area 16's unified team is both a rewarding and exhausting experience. The state games were three full days of non-stop activities, "From the moment I left my house Thursday morning until I pulled into my driveway just after 5 p.m. Saturday evening, the only breaks we took were to sleep," Ebeling stated. "Between walking to opening ceremony, making sure everyone was unpacked, and taking our athletes to the carnival our first day flew by."
The rest of the weekend consisted of watching our other Area 16 volleyball teams, dancing for two straight hours with the athletes at their big dance and, most importantly, getting to play volleyball with these awesome athletes.
Fordham, who graduated from Albion in May, said, "The dance was, by far, my favorite part of the weekend. It was so cool to see all the athletes let loose and have fun and I'm lucky I got to be a part of it."
Webber said the dance also allows the athletes to connect with Special Olympians from other areas and make new friends.
"It was my favorite part of the weekend as well, because I met so many new people and had so much fun with all the athletes," she said.
Bright and early Saturday morning, the Area 16 traditional team started the weekend with a big win, followed by a win from the modified team, too. After a couple of nail biting sets, the unified team lost its first match in five sets. After facing some adversity, the unified team was able to win its second game which happened to be for the bronze medal.
"Although we weren't able to take first, I am grateful to be able to play with some awesome athletes and even better people," Webber said.
Saturday morning was also exciting because the traditional and modified teams were awarded silver medals for their efforts. Even though the partners were mainly there to play alongside the athletes on the unified team, there were also many other benefits and experiences that arose from the opportunity.
Before arriving at Central Michigan for the state games, none of the Britons serving as partners had any idea what to expect for the weekend.
An all-Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association first team pick in men's basketball who was a member of the Britons MIAA Tournament championship squad earlier this year, Ebeling said his involvement with Special Olympics has been one of his favorite and most rewarding experiences since beginning his Albion career in 2016.
"I went expecting to serve the athletes and receive nothing in return," said Ebeling. "However, after spending time with them, seeing them compete so hard and experiencing their contagious positive attitudes and instant acceptance and friendships, it was obvious that I was the real benefactor of the relationship."
Fordham added, "I gained a whole new outlook on life, like how one hug or dance that may seem minor to you, can bring nothing but pure joy and happiness to another."
The Britons agreed the experiences they had were nothing short of incredible and something Ebeling and Webber plan on continuing next year.
"I think more college students should become involved in Special Olympics because it not only affects the athletes in a positive way but affects you as well." Webber added.
To the Special Olympians, the Britons were more than just partners or teammates. They were mentors, close friends, and, most importantly, someone they look up to. The Britons could not be prouder of everything Area 16 volleyball accomplished this season and they are excited for what the future holds.
"Thank you to (Albion senior associate athletic director) Melissa Walton for everything she does for Area 16, the parents and chaperones that volunteered their time to make sure everyone had a good time, and most importantly, the athletes," said Ebeling. "Each of us have learned so much from all of you and cannot wait to be back next season!"
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Caden Ebeling is an accounting major and a communications minor from Shelby Township, Mich.
Joe and Julie Serra have given a $5 million leadership gift to launch a fundraising initiative to make two dreams a reality at Albion College. The first is a newly expanded fitness and student activity facility at the site of the current Dow Recreation and Wellness Center. The second is a new or renovated competition facility for the volleyball, men's basketball and women's basketball that currently call Kresge Gymnasium home.
The College is continuing to raise funds in support of both projects. To learn more, call 517/629-0446 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.