Monday, October 4, 2010

The love of the game

Almost twenty years ago I was a part of a state champion volleyball team.  It makes me a little emotional to think it was that long ago.  I'm not the kind of person who lives in the past, whose life peaked at the moment of the big game and never fully developed beyond that moment.  I do however, enjoy the memory of that championship like a big bowl of chocolate ice cream.  When the memory is there it's sweet, it doesn't last long, and it makes my insides shiver with happiness.

It was 1991, I was a junior in high school, twenty pounds rounder but full of muscle, and my nickname was Hairball.  I vividly remember the day our coach, Mr. Francik, bestowed the nickname upon me.  My first thought was of the gooey shit you pull out of the shower drain.  Hairball?  Really? GROSS.  To this day he has never called me anything but Hairball.  I'm goddam proud of that name and always will be. 

Our team was a great group of girls but when it came to a decent season we sucked balls.  Stinky, fleshy, hairy, fromunda cheese balls.  Our record was what... 2 and 15?  I'm not sure how correct that number is, but I know it's damn close.  We couldn't pull a winning season out of our asses if a proctologist reached in and handed it to us in a Mason jar.  When it came to playing Gillette, the best team that season, a chunk of our dignity was destroyed with every beating they gave us.  And they beat us a lot.

That's how we showed up at regionals... defeated.  Then something sparked.  I don't know what it was, but with each game we played we seemed to make up for lost time.  There was a flood of excitement that began to build up as we started to kick some ass, and we finished the regional tournament looking like real volleyball players who were serious about taking the state championship.

Ironically enough, the final game to decide state champs was between us and Gillette.  The worst team against the best.  They had their championship frocks all made up already, believing they would walk out of that gym crowned queens of the Wyoming 4A State Volleyball Championship.  The game was intense, it was exciting, the crowd was insane!  So many people packed into that gym and watched as Cody, the stinky, fleshy, hairy, fromunda cheese ball-sucking team that didn't amount to anything during the season, kick the holy living shit out of the fucking Gillette Camels.  Camels? Really?  Who the fuck wants to be a camel? 

ANYWAY.  We floated home on the bus that night, not really knowing what just happened, yet feeling it vibrate through our souls all the same.  As soon as we arrived in Cody the firetruck was there, waiting to take us through town, as was tradition with any team that won state.  It was a bitter cold night and I was wrapped up in a huge quilt, sitting atop the firetruck with my teammates.  A moment of that memory was preserved in the newspaper as a snapshot, and if that clipping wasn't buried in storage with the rest of my life I'd put it along with this post.

The memory of this time in my life surfaced tonight after the kids and I watched the freshmen play a game against Thermopolis.  Mr. Francik, long since retired from coaching the varsity team, is now coaching the "niners."  What a jolt it was to see my old coach, the man I met the summer before fifth grade at a volleyball clinic he held, the man who was my guidance counselor throughout high school and whom I consider a dear friend, looking so thin and frail.  I almost didn't recognize him.

The man still has it in him though - his team was outstanding and we had a great time watching them play.  The kids cheered and clapped for Cody, learning little bits and pieces as we watched.  After the game Amanda kept asking me to please introduce her to Mr. Francik.  She has developed an interest in the sport and the coach made the comment that next summer, the summer before she starts fifth grade, she'll be able to attend his clinic.

We have come full circle... maybe one day she will get her own nickname and enjoy the love of the game as much as I did.

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