Amid her junior season on the pitch for the women’s soccer team, midfielder Allison Jorden is heading a special project off the field.
When the Scottsdale, Arizona, native first left high school, she began to long for one of her favorite extracurricular activities.
Jorden started the first four games of her sophomore year before a season-ending injury sidelined her indefinitely. At that point in time, two of her favorite pastimes were lacking from her life.
During the time Jorden spent away from soccer, it dawned on her that she could bring her passion of working with the disabled directly to IU’s campus. She wanted to start an organization that would build a healthy connection between Bloomington’s disabled population and IU’s student athletes.
“I was always really involved with people with disabilities in high school, but when I came to IU it was something that was really missing from my life,” Jorden said. “I get a ton of joy from working with people with disabilities and it was a big gap that I needed to fill.”
Enter “Everybody Plays,” a program where disabled participants play sports with the student athletes that represent the cream and crimson for IU.
“People look up to athletes and idolize them and associate them with all these great things,” Jorden said. “I wanted to harness that power and turn it into something positive.”
The junior teamed up with the IU Excellence Academy and the IU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics to bring her idea to life. On April 5, the club had its inaugural meeting – a soccer event.
“The first event, it was really important that we got everything right and had great volunteers and great organization,” Jorden said. “It was a good thing that it was the soccer event because my teammates did such a good job volunteering and creating special relationships with the participants.”
The first event took place at the Mellencamp Pavilion. Jorden’s support from her soccer teammates was much appreciated, but the midfielder still feared it might be a challenge to get a variety of other student athletes to get in on Everybody Plays.
Luckily for Jorden, she said getting athletes from different sports was the easiest part of the program’s start-up. The junior is happy to say that there’s an abundance of student-athletes prepared to contribute to Everybody Plays.
When the program was addressed at a Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) meeting, a sign-up sheet was passed around the room. When the long list of names made its way back to Jorden, it brought her to tears.
“I thought that I was going to work a little harder to get volunteers, but the minute I spoke even one word about it, I had 40 to 50 people reaching out to me saying they wanted to be a part of it,” Jorden said. “It’s pretty cool that we have had athletes from almost every single sport volunteer and we’ve had over 75 student athletes be a part of it.”
Since April 5, there have been events for track and field and volleyball through Everybody Plays. Jorden commented that a wrestler recently reached out to her asking if a wrestling event could be in the works.
For Jorden, it goes beyond the sports. She acknowledges that while the participants with disabilities obviously benefit from the activities, so do the student athletes. The club is a mutually beneficial opportunity for pure relationships to be fostered.
“Forming those relationships has been the best part of it all,” Jorden said. “A lot of the kids that came to the soccer event have come to the next few events, so we’ll get to see them over and over again.”
And with that, the relationships are cemented and then given a chance to grow over time. These bonds are different because participants can swing by any IU home game and cheer on their friends.
Jorden is always looking for ways to better engage them in activities. On her own, she makes connections with the participants so quickly that she can dissect their personalities.
“Now we know that Ava is the troublemaker of the group, and Molly is the one that you’re going to have to chase around, and Alfred’s the one that has the best attitude,” Jorden said.
Everybody Plays is an early success. In just its fifth month of existence, the club has already seen so many volunteers and participants take serious interest in contributing.
The program may be in a stage of growth, but still has goals it can accomplish right now.
“The participants can learn so much from them, like their hardworking-ness and what it means to have a healthy, active lifestyle,” Jorden said. “On the flip side, the athletes can learn so much about pure joy and happiness and facing adversity from the participants.”