Volleyball stars catch Tebow-mania

By Walter Villa

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has been the talk of the sports world this season, his No. 15 is among the NFL’s hottest-selling jerseys, and everyone, it seems, has an opinion of the quarterback.

Girls’ volleyball players are no exception when it comes to Tebow-mania, especially those who play in Tebow hot spots Florida and Colorado.

Jackie Wegner is a case in point.

The 5-foot-9 outside hitter for East Lake (Tarpon Springs, Fla.) has been a Tebow fan since he started playing for her favorite college team, the Florida Gators. She has a Tebow Gators jersey and is hoping she gets a Broncos No. 15 for Christmas.

But Wegner’s support for Tebow extends beyond the football field.

“I’m a big Christian, and I like what he represents,” said Wegner, who has committed to play sand volleyball at Tulane. “Tebow does a good job balancing his sport and his faith.”

Wegner read Tebow’s book, “Through My Eyes,” and was amazed to discover that he was almost aborted due to health concerns.

“But his parents kept the faith that everything would come out OK,” Wegner said. “It’s crazy that he almost didn’t live, and now he’s awesome.”

Janae Hall, a 6-1 senior middle hitter for Regis Jesuit (Aurora, Colo.), started following Tebow when he was drafted by Denver. Her father, Darryl Hall, is a former Broncos defensive back, so she hears a lot of Tebow talk in her home.

“Some of my dad’s friends think Tebow gets hyped up too much, but most of my friends like him,” said Hall, who has signed to play at Kansas. “I like the way he plays. Even when things go bad, he always finds a way to pull it out in the end.”

Hall is certainly correct. Tebow is 6-1 as a starter this season and has led the Broncos to a first-place tie in their division.

As for Tebow’s views on religion, Hall said she appreciates the NFL star’s candid approach.

“I like that he is secure enough in his relationship with God that he wants to spread the word,” Hall said.

Nicole Dalton, a 6-2 senior setter/hitter for Chaparral (Parker, Colo.), is one of the nation’s top recruits and is preparing to enroll at Texas this summer.

Dalton said she wants to follow Tebow’s example, especially as it pertains to the next stage of her life.

“He stayed strong with his faith, and that’s hard to do in college,” Dalton said. “We all know there are parties and stuff in college.

“I think Tebow is great. Pope John Paul II said ‘be not afraid,’ and obviously Tebow is not afraid.”

Dalton said Tebow Fever is everywhere in Colorado. During one of her matches this past season, the Chaparral fans all kneeled in the Tebow pose, just as an opponent was about to serve.

Back in Florida, “Tebowing” has also caught on in high schools.

Jordan Burgess, a 6-0 senior outside hitter for Berkeley Prep (Tampa, Fla.), said she’s seen people photographed doing the pose at school, at the mall and just about everywhere else.

“It’s spreading the nation,” said Burgess, who signed with Stanford. “Him getting down on one knee and thanking God, it amazes me because he’s a superstar. He could easily run around the field, attracting attention to himself, jumping around like a lot of other football players do.

“But he is completely selfless. That’s probably why he has such a following. He’s an amazing player, and he is humble at the same time, and it’s really fun to watch people like that.”

Nicole Edelman, a 6-0 senior setter at Fairview (Boulder, Colo.), said she is “not hugely religious” but is still a fan.

"If that’s what motivates him, that’s awesome,” she said. “As long as he’s being honest, I’m all for it.”

Edelman said what resonates with her most about Tebow is how he has responded to his voluminous critics. She said she dealt with some criticism when she was selected for the U.S. Youth National Team that went to Turkey last summer.

“You’re always going to have critics, but I like how (Tebow) put all the controversy aside and just kept playing,” Edelman said. “I’ve just started dealing with it, but he’s obviously dealt with it a lot more.”

Emily Podschweit, a 5-7 senior libero for Chaparral, also draws inspiration from Tebow.

“My journey to be a collegiate beach athlete has been tough already,” she said. “So many people are negative against my location and my size. I can let it hurt me or I can choose to handle it the way Tebow has -- faith first, confidence to push forward and loving the journey along the way.”