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On the ball: Children lend a hand at sports games

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On the ball: Children lend a hand at sports games

Jordan Corbly, an Illini Ball Kid for women’s volleyball at Huff Hall on August 27, 2016

Jordan Corbly, an Illini Ball Kid for women’s volleyball at Huff Hall on August 27, 2016

Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Corbly

Jordan Corbly, an Illini Ball Kid for women’s volleyball at Huff Hall on August 27, 2016

Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Corbly

Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Corbly

Jordan Corbly, an Illini Ball Kid for women’s volleyball at Huff Hall on August 27, 2016

By Citlalli Pino, Contributing Writer

Some of the most important people on the sidelines of various womens sporting events at the University are 8- to 14-year-old children. The Fighting Illini Ball Kids are ready to retrieve the balls rolled or tossed out of bounds at any moment during a game and hand them back to players.

The Fighting Illini Ball Kids currently help during volleyball, basketball and soccer games.

“I don’t know if there was one person that came up with the idea of the Ball Kids,” said Deion Summers, event coordinator for the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics. It’s based off some of the rules that are in place. We’re required by some NCAA and Big Ten rules to have some sort of group for ball retrieval at certain sports just to keep the flow of the game and the pace of play intact so you’re not waiting.

The Fighting Illini Ball Kids help with womens volleyball the most. Summers attributes this to the success the team has had and the nature of the sport itself.

“Volleyball just has a huge following in this community and it also helps that they’ve been the most successful as well, he said. I think it has a lot to do with it being indoors. Soccer is harder because toward the end of the season, the weather sometimes gets worse. There’s a system that we have for volleyball that definitely makes it easier than soccer. Volleyball is also very quick and it’s more engaging.”

Many of the ball kids are excited to interact with collegiate athletes and University students in general.

“It’s very exciting for them because we are a Big Ten Conference institution and that definitely has some weight to the program already, and when someone goes up and asks a child to help, they immediately ask their parent, ‘Can I go?’ Summers said. They usually don’t hesitate and they find it very fun to be engaged and up close to the action because they’re right on the sidelines, and it’s fun to be in that atmosphere.”

Kayleigh Holt, a fifth grader, has been a ball kid for two years. Kayleigh’s mother, Kim, couldn’t wait to sign her up for the program after years of attending games.

“We attended games when she was younger, mostly volleyball games when she was about 3 or 4, and I saw all the kids out there and I thought, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be really neat for her to do that someday, because I think that’d be a good experience, and she’s really enjoyed doing it, too,” Kim said.

Kim is proud watching her daughter on the court.

“I love watching her out there,” she said. “Quite often I don’t know who to watch: Do I watch the game or do I watch her? Especially when she’s throwing the balls back to the players, she’s just grinning from ear to ear.”

Kayleigh helps out at the volleyball games. She enjoys watching the game from the sidelines and seeing the action up close. She even has a favorite player: Jacqueline Quade. When she had the opportunity to meet and speak with her, she was starstruck.

“I was pretty nervous because, for me, she’s the best player on the team,” she said.

Jordan Corbly, another ball kid, is also a fan of Quade.

Jordan is 12 years old and has been a ball kid for four years. As a volleyball player herself, she enjoys the experience even more. Because she’s helped out at games so many times, it’s become second nature to her. However, she did take some time to learn the ropes.

“My first time being a ball kid, I was really young and I didn’t know what to do,” Jordan said. “But once I got older, I got used to it and it became normal and very fun.”

Despite having been a ball kid for years, she still gets excited for each game.

“Every time I go to a game, I just think it’s really cool because I’ve been doing it for so long, I get to know the players more and I really like that part of it,” Jordan said. “Also, looking at the fan section like Spike Squad makes it really fun and getting to know them because they’re really nice.”

Rebecca Corbly, assistant equipment manager for DIA and Jordan’s mother, is happy being a ball kid has given her daughter role models.

As a parent, she said watching her daughter on the court adds value to the experience.

“I just think it’s a really cool experience, especially for her being a volleyball player and having such an interest in it,” she said. “She’s grown up with these players and they’re such great role models and athletes, so it’s been really good for her.”

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