Fort Stewart’s Warriors in Transition Unit can take the credit for two new athletic events at this year’s Marne Week competitions, which celebrated the 3rd Infantry Division’s 96th birthday.
The new events were wheelchair basketball and seated volleyball.
Terri Aiello, a physical-therapy assistant, is a coach for the WTU’s seated-volleyball teams. She said the game simulates having to play with injuries to the lower-body’s extremities. Six players on each team can reach up or roll over, but their bottoms cannot leave the floor. Players are allowed three chances to hit the ball over the net before the point goes to the other team, she said.
Aiello said WTU soldiers play seated volleyball as physical training twice a week for 1 1/2 hours at a time. She smiled when asked about the advantage WTU soldiers had over other units that haven’t practiced seated volleyball during their physical training.
“This is the first year we’ve incorporated it into Marne Week,” Aiello said. “It’s more challenging than many people might think. I don’t really do well playing regular volleyball because I’m so short. But I can slide around with seated volleyball. I do a lot better.”
She said tall players still have the advantage of height. Some have even been able to spike the ball, she said. Still, for most players, she said it’s difficult making a serve or simply hitting the ball from a seated position.
As she talked about the sport Wednesday morning at Newman Fitness Center, a team from the 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team was scrimmaging with a WTU team. The one-sided game was played on a racquetball court with a thick glass front wall that allowed spectators to watch and maybe learn WTU players’ techniques.
“I’m surprised that they’re all so eager to play,” Aiello said, adding that each team playing at that time had a female player. “It’s a coed sport.”
Debra Dehart, a physical therapist and a WTU volleyball coach, said seated volleyball is an official U.S. Paralympics sport.
“It started out as a sport for amputees,” she said. “We have an amputee on one of the WTU teams, but he’s not playing today.”
Dehart said the seated-volleyball tournament at Marne Week had eight teams competing. Four games were played on Wednesday. Thursday, the winners of Wednesday’s matches played in one round of playoffs then the final game.
Aiello said the WTU has had a couple wounded warriors with lower back injuries that have tried to play seated volleyball, but the sport was too hard on their backs. She said, in fact, it’s hard on anyone’s back and can leave any player with sore muscles. Grinning, she said the player’s bottom is what is usually most sore.
Following the scrimmage, another team with the 1st ABCT and a team with the 2nd ABCT squared off.
Referee Vernie Radunske with the 188th Infantry Brigade first met with the leaders of both teams, explaining the rules.
As the game got under way, some shorter players found it difficult to get the ball over the net when serving. Others had trouble returning the ball without it going out of bounds or just getting it back over the net in just three hits.
Although one team started out with an early lead, the other team’s players eventually got into the spirit and feel of the game.
They may have lost, but they made the other team earn it. Members of both teams left the court sweating heavily and ready for a break.