Chattanoogan Senior Spotlight: East Hamilton Unified Special Olympics

Five Seniors Highlight Hurricanes As Canceling of Summer Games Deals Blow To Athletes, Organization

Wednesday, May 13, 2020 - by Kevin Llewallyn

(UPDATED WITH PHOTOS) While the loss of the spring sports season has certainly been heart-breaking for senior athletes, arguably the greatest loss was this year’s Special Olympics Summer Games. The state’s games, which were set to happen this week in Nashville, are now taking place virtually each afternoon at 5:00 local time. These virtual games include an opening ceremony, daily fitness challenges, and various trainings presented by sponsors from around the state.

 

According to Tennessee’s Special Olympics Vice President of Marketing and Development Amy Parker, the loss of the games hits home very deeply with many of the athletes because this is often the highlight of their year.

Parker described one athlete who has his bags packed weeks in advance in preparation for the event.

 

While the effect that the loss of the event has had on the participants is the most devastating, Parker said the financial loss has also been difficult. The summer games provide a significant source of the organization’s funding, and many of its primary fundraisers have also been canceled, creating even more financial strain. And while the statewide sponsors of the Special Olympics have obviously been understanding of the fact that the games will look different with less advertising exposure than in typical years, many of those businesses are also facing financial stress of their own.

 

Locally, the loss of the games hits home at schools like East Hamilton, where they not only have students that participate, but they do so as a Unified Champion School. That means that their teams have special needs athletes who pair up with “traditional” athletes. These teams compete at the highest levels in flag football, volleyball, bowling, bocce ball, and basketball. The Hurricanes also take a full unified team to the TSSAA state track meet at the Spring Fling in one of a handful of unified sports officially sanctioned by the state’s organization.

 

The Hurricanes have four seniors who have never lost the Area 4 volleyball regional tournament including this year, and they have finished each year in the final four of the Tennessee Special Olympic Summer Games. Seniors Ryan Black, Trevor Belcher, Jordyn Griffith, and Brighton Ralls are all members of East Hamilton’s Total Destruction. They have recruited others to join, which includes fellow senior Allison Giles, and were especially excited because this team was loaded and ready to bring home the gold.

 

Ryan Black

 

Black plays every sport for the Hurricane's unified team, and was a part of the basketball team that won the unified state tournament at Lipscomb University last March. He has been on the past three volleyball teams with Belcher, Griffith, and Ralls that have been so close to winning each year. Black was telling everyone that they were going to win gold this year.

 

He has also won gold in basketball, flag football, bowling, bocce ball, and track and field.

 

Trevor Belcher

 

Like Black, Belcher also plays every sport and played on the basketball team that won the unified state tournament a couple of months ago. He has become one of the most rock-solid members of the volleyball team, and the other members of the squad would call on him when they needed a point.

 

He has also won gold in basketball, flag football, bowling, bocce ball, and track and field.

 

Allison Giles

 

Giles is relatively new to the unified program, but she jumped in feet first. After helping to secure the seventh straight Area 4 regional volleyball tournament championship, she joined the unified track team, which won the sectionals and competed at last year's TSSAA unified state championships. She was looking forward to this year's Summer Games and the unified track season.

 

Jordyn Griffith

 

Griffith began playing with the unified volleyball team as a traditional athlete during her freshman year, and she also plays on the girls' volleyball team for the Lady Hurricanes. Since her sophomore year, she has helped with all of the unified sports, including the Winter Games in skiing, snowboarding, and speed skating.

 

Griffith works hard to help the special needs athletes get better at volleyball, helping them learn how to serve, hit, set, and pass. She was named the co-Unified Athlete of the Year for Area 4 this season.

 

Brighton Ralls

 

Ralls joined Griffith with the co-Unified Athlete of the Year honors for Area 4. She loves playing volleyball with Total Destruction, helping to coach the athletes in the art of playing the game.

 

While volleyball is her sport of choice, she also helps with all of the other events like the Winter Games. She spends a lot of time helping the special needs athletes at school as well by being in the Buddy Club.

 

 

The Chattanoogan Senior Spotlight series highlights local prep seniors whose seasons have been canceled due to the unprecedented situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are associated with a high school spring sports team and would like your seniors featured, please encourage the coach to reach out to me at kevin.llewallyn@gmail.com. Also, share this article and others like it from this series on social media using #ChattanooganSeniorSpotlight.


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