By Alan Brads
There is an unwritten rule in college athletics. It transcends schools, conferences and even divisions.
Scholarship athletes belong to certain majors – Business, Communication, Finance, Political Science among others. Call it a cliche or trite, but the data is there, and speaking in general terms, the stereotypes are true.
Ethan Sellars learned not to believe in unwritten rules.
In the summer of 2022 Sellars was accepted to Cedarville’s school of Business, and he received an athletic scholarship as a point guard on the men’s basketball team.
His teammates would be in the same major as him, it was simply the thing to do. Until Sellars asked himself a simple question:
That one word question flipped his career path and college life upside down, and he enrolled in Cedarville’s Special Education program.
It would mean late nights doing homework while his friends played video games, and staying an hour after basketball practice ended putting up shots because class kept him out of the first hour of practice. But for Sellars, a life of helping disabled children would make the extra hours worth it.
Sellars’ 6’0” 175 pound stature and red hair don’t scream “basketball player,” and many of his classmates don’t even know he’s an athlete. But he prefers it that way. He is a student athlete, and for him, it goes in that order. Student, then athlete.
“I like blending in in class,” Sellars said. “I just want to focus on academics, I don’t want to talk about last night’s game. I just want to do my thing.”
Without hesitation, Sellars said that if he had to give up basketball or special education, he’d quit basketball in a heartbeat.
“Sometimes I’d come back from class, and my friends and teammates are playing video games or shooting basketballs and I’m like, ‘I should’ve just stayed in business,’” Sellars said. “There is that thought, but when I think about why I’m actually doing special education, it redirects me.”
That elusive “why” began to form in third grade, when Sellars’ first close experience serving people with disabilities came in the form of a school program called the Ashland special olympics.
He paired with a student two years younger than himself named Chrisshawn who is affected by cerebral palsy, and participated in races alongside him. The two clicked and became instant friends.
Year after year Sellars would request that his dad, who taught in the special education program and helped oversee the special olympics in the special education program, pair him with Chrisshaw. There is no hierarchy to their friendship, a bond that lasts to this day. They are just two friends.
The two bonded over their interest in athletics, frequently bantering about their favorite football teams.
Despite graduating, Sellars hasn’t forgotten about his friend from Ashland high school.
“I’ve learned so much from Chrisshawn,” Sellars said. “He’s so confident in who he is and doesn’t let anyone else determine his identity.”
Chrisshawn has a passion for shoes, and refuses to wear braces that would aid his ability to walk, because they prevent him from wearing his favorite Jordans.
“Whenever they see each other now it’s like they were never apart,” Sellars’ father, Jamey, said.
Jamey Sellars worked the past 17 years in Ashland, Kentucky as a special education teacher, helping kids like Chrisshawn succeed in school.
The father and son’s backgrounds are notably similar, Casey Sellars having coached varsity athletics, and worked in special education. Though Ethan Sellars takes after his father in many ways, Jamey Sellars emphasizes that they never held his son to that expectation.
“We just wanted him to do his own thing,” he said. “People would ask me why he wasn’t constantly hitting tennis balls since I was a tennis coach. He didn’t want to hit tennis balls. If he wanted to play basketball we’d do that, if he wanted to try soccer then we’d try that.”
Sellars’ last minute change of majors would naturally surprise many, including teammates, but not his parents.
“I think we saw it coming before he did,” Jamey Sellars said.
His son’s future came into focus on the varsity basketball team. Sellars competed at a high level, and contributed on one of the best teams in Kentucky. Sellars’high school, Ashland Blazer, finished the 2020 basketball season undefeated, as one of the favorites to win the state championship, but the tournament was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite his team’s success on the court, Jamey Sellars saw more than basketball in his son’s future.
Sellars drew close to Ashland Blazers’ basketball team manager, Luke Mays, who has Down syndrome. Mays is more than a manager to Sellars. He, like Chrisshawn, is a friend.
“He was just as much a part of our team and our friend group as everyone else,” Ethan Sellars said.
And he made good on his word.
“Coming out of the locker room, Ethan could’ve been hanging out, cutting it up with his teammates, but usually he’d come out with his arm around Mays,” Jamey Sellars said. “Luke just wanted to feel like part of the team, and Ethan made sure it happened.”
Ethan Sellars spent countless hours in his father’s classroom growing up, befriending other kids with special needs, and his father saw the culmination of that love in his friendship with Mays. He knew Ethan could make a career out of it.
When Sellars arrived at Cedarville, he focused so intensely on school that he lost some of the passion for the sport he once loved. His favorite hobby turned into a financial means to an end. While prioritizing school is commendable, feeling miserable for four year of varsity basketball is a bleak prospect.
All that changed when Coach Pat Estepp gave him a new perspective.
“At first, I just wanted my school paid for,” Sellars said. “But when Coach Estepp taught me how to glorify God through basketball, everything changed.”
For Sellars, glorifying God through basketball means giving it all he has every time he’s on the court.
While Sellars regained his love for basketball, it’s still just a passion, not a purpose. He feels his purpose is still teaching.
“There’s nothing that could make me quit special education,” Sellars said. “I don’t think there’s anything I’d rather be doing than this. Building relationships like I have with Chrisshawn and Luke, I would never give that up for anything.”
Alan Brads is a sophomore journalism student and frequent contributor for Cedars. He enjoys playing the drums and speaking Spanish, and watches Buckeye football like his life depends on it.