(Posted July 16, 2018)
By Christine Bryant, Staff Writer
Athletes from Madison County’s Special Olympics volleyball team are celebrating gold.
Team Ohio members recently returned home adorned with gold medals after earning the top spot on the podium in volleyball at the 2018 USA Games held in Seattle, Wash.
Ohio’s team included athletes from the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Hilliard Special Olympics, and Madison County Board of Developmental Disabilities. A unified team from each organization competed at the 2017 USAV Open in Minneapolis, Minn., and each sent two athletes and two partners to compete on Team Ohio at the 2018 USA Games for a total of 12 team members.
Representing Madison County were athletes Michael Elfrink and John Zeeck. Lincoln Comer, director of Special Olympics and community recreation for the Madison County Board of Developmental Disabilities, served as a partner, along with Chris Zeeck. All reside in London.
“That was the best trip that I have ever had, not just playing with people that we already knew, but also making new friends,” John Zeeck said.
A unified partner is an individual who does not have a disabilit, and plays alongside athletes to form the unified teams, Comer said.
“In volleyball, you have three athletes and three partners on the floor at the same time,” he said.
In addition to volleyball, Ohio’s Special Olympics team offers several other options for athletes, including golf, softball, bowling, bocce, basketball and alpine skiing.
Comer said once Team Ohio heard it had been granted a unified volleyball slot for Seattle, he and other coaches pitched the idea to the state’s Special Olympics office of using volleyball players who competed in Minneapolis last year.
With the help of donations and through fundraising efforts, Team Ohio joined athletes in Seattle from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, More than 4,000 athletes competed in 14 sports. Team Ohio competed in 10 of the 14 sports, Comer said.
To qualify, athletes had to be a minimum of 8 years old, and youth and adults competed side by side.
Team Ohio had a few minors participating in other sports, though the only youth competing on the volleyball team was partner Chris Zeeck, who is 17 and is John’s brother.
“It was an awesome experience,” Chris said. “I think my most favorite part was meeting all the players that I played against in Ohio. We were a team in Seattle.”
That knowledge of other local teams helped all the players to join together as one, Comer said.
“I believe our biggest advantage was knowing one another as most of the players from Team Ohio play each other on a regular basis,” he said. “We know each other’s style of play, which enabled us to gel quickly and find success.”
Besides playing volleyball, team members took time to enjoy the sights in Seattle, traveling by bus, light rail and foot to visit Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, the “Gum Wall,” Gas Works Park and the Seattle Great Wheel. They also caught a Mariners baseball game and took photos of Mt. Rainier in the distance.
“This by far was my favorite Special Olympics adventure to date,” Comer said. “The weather was great, the people of Seattle were great, the volunteers were great, the scenery was spectacular, camaraderie was at the highest level, and we brought home the gold.”
In addition to winning gold medals, Team Ohio received another prize at the end.
“I was so excited to be part of such a great team, and it was cool to get a game ball after winning,” Elfrink said.