Volleyball, Inclusion, Awareness and Acceptance

April 2014 – We had Rachel’s official transition to high school meeting. There were 15 people there including Rachel and a variety of teachers, administrators, counselors and case managers from both her middle school and high school plus Jonathan and me.  One of the attendees was this tiny little teacher from the high school, Ms. Rooney.  Side note: This was not Rachel’s largest IEP meeting. The record was 22 at the transition from elementary to middle school.  Her fifth grade teacher called me at home that evening and apologized. She said she didn’t like to talk in front of adults and didn’t feel she adequately described Rachel. She said she was totally overwhelmed.  Can you imagine how some parents may feel?  That is an entirely different blog.

At the meeting, Rachel gave her “I Love My Life” presentation and told about her hopes, dreams, goals and answered some questions. Jonathan and I tied it up in a neat package by focusing on our high expectations. Rachel’s middle school team did an amazing job of discussing  how Rachel learns and how they had worked together with us. Again, those details are also for another blog (High School Here Comes Rachel.)  It was a good meeting.

A short time later, I received a phone call from Ms. Rooney. She said she was the freshman girls volleyball coach and did we think Rachel might like to be the volleyball manager?  She said she had noticed her interest in sports and activities and thought it would be an immediate peer group for Rachel . We mentioned it to Rachel and once she figured out that she wouldn’t have to carry their drinks and pick up their trash, she said yes.  I also learned that Ms. Rooney who has since become Ms. Fitzgerald (Ms. Fitz to Rachel) was the chair of the special education department. She later became Rachel’s case manager and has stayed with us  across this journey.

That was four years ago and Rachel has been a team manager for four years. Her sophomore year, Ms. Fitz moved up to coach the sophomore team and Rachel went with her. Rachel has stayed with the sophomore team.  She wanted to stay with Ms. Fitz even thought that meant she would be with a younger age group of girls. Over the course of these four years, Rachel has become friends with many of these girls and their families. It is not uncommon for a parent I don’t know to tell me they love Rachel and their child loves Rachel. The girls coined the term “Best manager ever.” Sometimes, they post on social media.

I also hear how she gives pep talks.

I even heard one girl who said she had a bad day and Rachel made her feel better about herself.  “She makes us all feel better.” Ms. Fitz was absolutely right. Volleyball gave Rachel a place to belong. She is so proud to be able to say she has been the volleyball manager. Now, she has friends across the three classes she managed.

The girls have been working with her on her serving. This year, they decided that she is a senior and she needed to get to serve in a game.  They worked and worked with her. It was fun to watch them teaching her and the pride and care they took.  They also protected her from flying balls!  I don’t know exactly how it all went down, but Ms. Fitz worked it out with the officials and the other coach and Rachel got her chance to serve. It took a couple of tries but it went over.  The entire gym cheered.  The freshman team was playing on the next court. They happened to have a time out when Rachel was serving,  so they ask they coach if they could watch and she said “of course.”

rachel serving video

Rachel did high-fives down the bench. You would have thought she had won an Olympic Gold medal.  In a lot of ways, I think it was better than a gold medal – for everyone and not just Rachel. I also think we struck gold on that April day in 2014 when Ms. Rooney came to Rachel’s IEP meeting.

This is the final hug of the final game. Lots of tears. Lots of laughter. A final trademark pep talk. Lessons to last a lifetime.

Volleyball is inclusion



Volleyball is life.

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