BOYS VOLLEYBALL: Bryce Whitfield becomes hype man for Chambersburg's JV squad
Right before every match, Chambersburg's junior varsity boys volleyball team huddles up.
The last person to enter the huddle is Bryce Whitfield, who imitates a swimming motion to announce his arrival. Whitfield gets in the middle of the huddle and starts his signature dance.
"He does his little dance that he likes to call the whip, and everybody just loses it," Trojan outside hitter Evan Misal said. "Before every game, he's the one that leads the chant. He's full of energy, and he's hilarious."
Whitfield, a 6-foot-2 junior, is autistic, and up until this year, he's been searching for that team environment.
"It just makes me feel like I'm worth something to them, not just any person," Whitfield said. "I want to help them, get them pumped up and stuff."
Yes, Whitfield is the hype man for Chambersburg – "He's the most pumped up kid I've ever seen, you can ask anyone," Dalton Strite said – but Whitfield is also so much more than that.
"I had originally told him I may only be able to use him to serve when I put him on the team, and he was fine with that," Chambersburg JV coach Chris Picking said. "But I've actually gotten him some playing time. He's actually gotten some kills and some blocks."
The journey to be on a Trojan team has not been an easy one for Whitfield, though. He tried out for two other Chambersburg squads before he was accepted by the boys volleyball team. He started by going to open gyms and participated in the team's study hour before practice despite it being difficult to stay focused.
"I told (varsity coach) Marta (Cummings) a little bit about him, and she was very willing to have him come out," said Jenny Whitfield, Bryce's mother. "He really enjoyed the open gyms, and the kids treated him really well. He's kind of the entertainer, so he gave it his all."
Jenny said a big draw to being on a team was having a set schedule and responsibilities he had to commit to. But that schedule has posed its own problems.
"It's draining on him, but he loves it," Jenny said.
Bryce said, "My brother, Cade, was playing basketball, and I wanted to be like him. It was very tough, but I pushed through it. It was really very hard for me, but I stuck with it. I am really blessed that they kept me on the team."
Although Whitfield was fine with whatever his role might be on the team, he has enjoyed his playing time most of all. But he is happy to take on the role of cheerleader when necessary.
"When I first started to play and whenever I got my first block, everyone was rooting for me, and it made me feel good," Whitfield said. "Sometimes when varsity plays, they call me down to do the whip for them, too, 'cause it gets them hyped. That makes them play better and puts their mind toward the game."
While he was learned a great deal from his teammates, Whitfield has also been able to teach them a thing or do.
"He's really good for us because it teaches us tolerance," Misal said. "There was a lot of fighting among teammates in the past, but this year, there's not so much bickering among people. We're always playing as a team, and I think Bryce definitely helps that."
There is a broader audience that Whitfield is trying to reach, too.
"I want to prove to people that autistic people can do stuff and play sports," Whitfield said. "It's a disability that people have, and it is hard for people, but I wanted to show autistic people that they can do stuff, too."