Curry Middle School’s seventh and eighth grade volleyball coach knew he wanted London Farris on his team when he saw her standing at the edge of the school’s basketball court playing with a volleyball last year. London, who turned 13 on Aug. 30, …
Curry Middle School’s seventh and eighth grade volleyball coach knew he wanted London Farris on his team when he saw her standing at the edge of the school’s basketball court playing with a volleyball last year. London, who turned 13 on Aug. 30, is now having the time of her life.
Coach Jamie Harding said it all started one afternoon when London and the school’s special needs resource aid, Jenice Chandler, who assists London during the school day, came into the school’s gym during an Athletics P.E. Class.
“My girls (the 7th and 8th grade volleyball teams) were in the gym practicing and there were some volleyballs just lying around,” Harding said. “Well, I looked over and noticed that London had picked one of the balls up and was playing with it. She was grinning from ear to ear, and I had never seen her smile like that.”
Harding said the same thing happened again the very next day. That was when he decided to go talk with the school’s principal, Dr. Barry Wilson, about seeing if London could play on the volleyball team.
“I told him, ‘I know she has special needs and all, but can she legally be on the team?’ Dr. Wilson quickly said, ‘Absolutely,’ and that he didn’t have a problem with it, as long as her mom and dad would let her do it,” Harding said. “I immediately went to talk with Ms. Jenice and asked her if she would contact London’s parents and asked them if they would let London be on our volleyball team. And they said she could, so we set up a meeting.”
Harding said he sat down with his players and talked to them about London being on the team.
“I told them we were going to have a special needs student on our team and we were going to treat her like one of our own,” Harding said. “I don’t treat her any different than I do the other players. She comes in and runs suicides, exercises and runs laps with us, and the girls let her take the lead. She has been more of a blessing to us than we’ve probably been to her. We’re learning more from her than she probably is from us.”
London was born with a severe chromosome abnormality known as a chipped No. 9 Chromosome, and was diagnosed with severe developmental learning disabilities at a very early age. She also has hearing and speech impediments and was diagnosed with autism.
Her parents thought that her playing any kind of physical contact sports like volleyball would be impossible.
But Coach Harding figured out a way for London to become an intricate part of the CMS girls’ volleyball teams.
“I try to put her in a couple of times each game and all the other coaches in the county have been wonderful about it,” Harding said. “She has been such an inspiration and blessing not only to our team, but to everyone here at the school.”
Harding said London does everything he asks her to do during practices, including running drills. She proudly wears her blue and gold jersey bearing the No. 10, and has been at every practice and game since joining the team, along with either one or both of her parents.
Her mother, Kelly Farris, keeps scores for both the 7th and 8th grade teams and her dad, Jeremy Farris, helps Harding out with the teams whenever he can.
Because of her disabilities, London mostly has to sit on the sidelines, cheering on her teammates. But when she’s given the chance to “bump” the ball over the net, she gives it her all.
Sometimes the ball goes over the net and some times it doesn’t. The crowd cheers for London anyway. And her mom, who can be seen smiling so proudly at her daughter, says she’s just playing volleyball “London” style.
“When Coach Harding came to us about London playing on the team, we were just floored. In fact, I literally broke down and cried. I never thought it would be possible for London to play regular sports in school,” Farris said. “London’s severe disabilities limit the things she can do, especially when it comes to playing sports. So we never dreamed anything like this would be possible.”
Farris said her daughter played special needs ball and soccer with the Dream Team when she was younger, but as she got older she didn’t want to do that anymore, so they didn’t push her.
“We try to give London the same experiences and opportunities as other kids and teenagers have, we just have to do it ‘London’ style, as we call it,” Farris said, “which means we have to prepare ahead of time for anything we plan to do. We have to pack extra clothes and food and drinks for her to have, especially if we’re going to be away from home for any length of time.”
For example, London and her parents went to the Bruno Mars concert in Huntsville for London’s birthday, so they had to plan to be away from home for several hours that day.
“We never dreamed we would be doing the sports thing, like going to ball games and tournaments,” Farris said. “It’s been a lot, but we’ve figured out a way to do the sports thing ‘London’ style too, and so far it’s worked it out.”
Farris said everyone at Curry Middle School has been so wonderful to London and their whole family.
“Coach Harding has been so great and everyone has been such a blessing to us. London loves playing on the volleyball team and she loves all the girls on both teams,” Farris said. “And I know all these girls are learning some life lessons they will take with them for the rest of their lives.”