When Rome High senior Hunter MacFarland heard she would be in charge of a service project as part of her responsibilities for being on the State Superintendent’s Advisory Council, it took her exactly three seconds to come up with a thought.

“I had the idea almost the minute we started talking about service projects. I had seen sitting volleyball in the paralympics and wanted to see if I could do this at Rome High,” she says. “I emailed Dr. Holland, Parke Wilkinson and others saying I wanted to try it. Within a few minutes, I got all the support I needed.”

The idea of incorporating the sport she loves into her service project came quite naturally to the senior, who has literally grown up playing volleyball.

“I’ve been playing volleyball since I was seven,” she said. “I’ve played travel volleyball and for my school. Honestly, I know volleyball better than just about anything else.”

Her passion and love for volleyball show on the court where she starred for Rome the past few seasons. She also has already signed a scholarship to play for Northwestern State next year to continue playing in college.

Needless to say, someone who has spent a large part of their life playing a sport has a love and affinity for it.

“What I really wanted was to be able to share my love of volleyball with kids who don’t really get a chance to play it,” she said. “In the beginning, this was kind of all like a dream. I didn’t know it was possible. So many people helped me that everything I had hoped to do came true.”

The next step involved MacFarland and her teammates getting together and traveling to the schools, so they could begin teaching students the game.

“The volleyball team knows their sport. They went out to each elementary school, the middle school and our class. It helped the kids build confidence before the event and gave the opportunity to build a relationship with the volleyball team and the players,” Josh Carpenter, a teacher at Rome High School, said.

Sometimes teaching new skills and new things to students can be a bit tricky, but Hananh Davis, who also teaches at Rome High, thought the volleyball players did an outstanding job.

“It was amazing. The volleyball team did such a wonderful job with our students. Sometimes our students can be a little trying, but that didn’t phase them or bother them,” Davis said. “They helped these kids and taught the kids adaptive volleyball. The great thing to see was that the kids teaching volleyball were just as excited as our kids were learning it.”

MacFarland and her teammates made visits to the schools, interacting with students and introducing them to the adaptive version of volleyball.

“My volleyball teammates and I went to the schools and got to know a lot of the kids and work with them and meet their teachers,” MacFarland said. “We wanted them to already know how to play before the big event.”

MacFarland and her teammates noticed lots of ear-to-ear smiles, laughing and joy at each of those schools, helping set the stage for the big event.

On Friday, March 8, Rome High’s gymnasium filled with lots of students preparing to play the sports they had just learned on the same floor that Rome High varsity teams compete on.

“When we do Adaptive PE, we’re typically in another gym,” Davis said. “It was cool to get to see the main gym and participate in the same gym where other students play their sports.”

Laughter, cheers and the sound of kids playing volleyball permeated the air as faculty, staff, and students watched, cheered, and helped at the event.

Some students played sitting volleyball, while some others stood and played volleyball with larger balls that are a bit easier to hit. No matter which version students played, big smiles, and lots of enjoyment ensued.

“It was a lot of fun. Many times in our field, our kids don’t have the opportunity to do something like this. For them to play in the gym in front of teachers and students form our schools and some board members was amazing,” Carpenter said. “It made the kids feel appreciated and gave them the opportunity to showcase what the volleyball players had taught them over the past few months.”

Anyone in attendance could easily see the smiles, laughter and fun everyone in attendance enjoyed.

“It just made my heart so happy to see the excitement and the smiles on each student’s face. Everyone was just happy and so engaged. It was just awesome,” Farrah Davis says. “It was one of the greatest days I’ve ever been a part of. To get to see everybody engaged together and helping each other was awesome.”

As the games progressed from younger to older students, the cheering continued as everyone wanted to make sure to cheer each other on.

“The kids all bought into it. They were excited. Everybody had the same shirt on creating a sense of unity. A lot of the older kids supported the younger kids as they played, cheering them on. When the older kids played, the younger kids cheered them on,” Carpenter says.

But it wasn’t just the students playing who enjoyed the event.

“Seeing all of the happiness and joy the athletes had was probably one of the most rewarding moments of my life. I have never felt this type of joy before,” MacFaralnd said. “I’ve played a lot of matches in a lot of great stadiums but this was just as rewarding if not more so.”

The joy continued throughout the event and even after it ended.

“All of those kids had so much fun. They couldn’t stop hugging me,” MacFarland said. “It was amazing. I had one teacher tell me that she had never seen one of her students smile, but that he smiled and laughed the whole time.”

Both MacFarland and Carpenter mentioned the day wouldn’t have been possible without support from Superintendent Dr. Eric L. Holland, Rome High Principal Parke Wilkinson, Rome Athletic Director Chris Boden and numerous teachers and students. They also thanked Jimmy Smith for donating money to help purchase the shirts.

“This was truly Hunter’s dream and passion to make this happen,” Carpenter said. “She did an amazing job to include these students and help put it all together.”