Most of you have played on a volleyball team before. How many times did you take your ability to do so for granted? How many times did you grumble before a practice, or about a certain drill? Be honest. Meet Marriya Mobley, a young woman who, while attending Harcum College, was finally allowed to be a part of a team despite her physical disability. Her coaches and teammates quickly learned that, while she wouldn’t have the highest kill percentage or the most digs, Mobley’s contribution to her team would turn out to be more important than anyone could have imagined.
Head Coach Carrie Bourgo needed players. She had five solid commits to Harcum College’s small volleyball program at the beginning of the 2010 season. In case of injury or illness, she wanted to have a full roster, so she sent out a mass email to the incoming freshman class inviting girls to try out for the team. One of the responses she got was from Marriya Mobley, an 18-year-old from Philadelphia.
“When she arrived at the gym, she walked right up to me and introduced herself,” Bourgo said. “She explained that she loved volleyball, but that she had a problem with her right arm. She couldn’t serve overhand, she didn’t have full range of motion in her shoulder, and her arm didn’t completely extend.”
Bourgo’s first inclination was to keep Mobley as a manager or to have her help out somehow with the team. But her numbers were low, and she needed subs in case someone couldn’t play. She decided to give Mobley a jersey.
“I told her not to expect too much out of it, and that she probably wouldn’t play much,” Bourgo said. “But Marriya was thrilled.”
Mobley had grown up loving sports and dance, but had often been left out of team activities because of her arm.
“If my arm was fine I’d be a pretty good athlete,” said Mobley, whose friends, coaches and family call her Mar. “But I played intermurals in high school, and the coach never let me participate as a real part of the team.”
Bourgo believed that if someone is a part of a team, they should participate in each activity.
“She was surprised that I included her in all of the drills,” Bourgo said. “But why not? She was a part of the team just like anyone else.”
That was the first time that Mobley felt really included in something.
“This was so different from those experiences I’d had before,” Mobley said. “I was just totally ecstatic.”
Mobley had little skill and no experience on the court. But her heart, compassion, and positivity quickly drew her teammate’s acceptance and appreciation.
“When we first started practices, I didn’t like Mar on the team because she slowed down the drills and she couldn’t pass or set the ball very well at all,” said teammate Ashley Allison, who started at Harcum the same year as Mobley.
“But no matter what, she never once complained. She had a better attitude than anyone else on the court.”
Bourgo puts a lot of importance on team building exercises at the beginning of each season so that the players can get to know and trust each other. At first the players were very skeptical of Mobley’s place on the team. But after learning about her and spending time with her, their feelings changed.
“They all just fell in love with her,” Bourgo said. “She’s just such a great person. She is the only person who will ask you how you are, every day, and be completely interested in what you’re going to say.
“There were days when she would thank me, just for a good practice. Or ask how I was doing, if I was OK. Usually that’s my job!”
Even more impressive is Mobley’s persistent positivity despite a trying childhood. It’s possible that her arm could have been corrected with surgery at a young age, but at that time it was the least of her family’s worries. Her parents had both passed away due to complications from AIDS before she was two years old. Her uncle, whom she now calls Dad, raised her. She suffered abuse at the hands of his ex-wife, but Mobley and her uncle are very close.
Throughout her childhood, no one gave her a specific diagnosis of her disability, possibly because her family didn’t seek one.
When she was about 10 years old, Mobley saw a television show about Erb’s Palsy, and still believes that to be her condition. Erb’s Palsy is a paralysis of the arm that is caused by brachial plexus injuries to the nerves during delivery. Many babies recover on their own, and those who don’t can often make a full recovery with surgery and physical therapy in their first few years. But Mobley was already 10 when she discovered this. It was too late.
“The doctors have said that they can break my arm, but it’s not 100 percent that I would regain any function,” Mobley said.
And with her attitude and positivity, maybe she doesn’t need normal function. Bourgo worked with Mobley on her skills, and teammates like Allison stayed after practice with her to improve her passing and serving.
“She was able to pass using just her left arm and using her right arm as a support,” Bourgo said. “For serving, she had to toss and serve with just her left arm. She couldn’t do it at all at the beginning, but eventually she could do it regularly.”
Allison said the transition was remarkable.
“By the end of the season, all her hard work and dedication had paid off,” Allison said. “She was able to serve over the net, and in serve receive she could pass balls straight to the setter.
“And when a ball was coming at her head, instead of ducking like she’d do at the beginning of the season, she would pop it up with her hands and make a playable ball for the rest of the team.”
Harcum Volleyball won its first Regional Championship that season with Mobley playing in 17 of 39 games on the right side. Team members believe they won in large part because of Mobley’s attitude and positivity.
“I definitely had more solid players all around Mar that helped the team win. But we definitely would not have made it as far as we did if we did not have her,” Bourgo said.
“Her presence on the court and on the bench was necessary to our success.”
Mobley doesn’t know where her positivite attitude comes from, and attributes it to her life experience.
“Everyone has a choice to be happy,” she said. “Everything I’ve gone through has made me stronger, and I dwell on the good things in life. Honestly, I don’t feel like I have a disability. I don’t think about it unless people ask. There’s some stuff that I can’t do very well, but everything I need to do, I do it.
“I can brush my teeth like everybody else.”
Because of financial reasons, Mobley is no longer playing at Harcum. She is currently running her own day care center, and she is still dreaming big.
“I want to get a master’s degree in early childhood development, and one day I want to be an advocate for young children,” Mobley said.
“And maybe, wherever I go for my master’s degree, I will be able to play volleyball again.”
For clips of Mirriya Mobley showing her skills on the court, check out this YouTube video.
Originally published in November 2011