Honoring The Game

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Honor is defined by Merriam-Webster as high moral standards of behavior, good name or public esteem, privilege, on whose worth brings a respect of fame, a keen sense of ethical conduct, an award in a contest of field of competition.

This past weekend I was able to observe over 3,500 girls compete on more than 370 volleyball teams. These young ladies honored the game by displaying their skill, determination, and passion for the sport during a large-scale highly competitive volleyball tournament. It was fascinating to watch the growth and development of these young ladies as individuals and teammates. Age groups as young as 12 and 13 utilized offensive systems and defensive schemes that far surpass their counterparts from previous decades. Tony Carrow, who is the director of Operations and Events, for this tournament could and should write a book on the nuisances of running large-scale tournament smoothly. This years Presidents Day Tournament was a great opportunity for our community to welcome guests from around the nation to our cities culture, food, entertainment, and belief systems. A few of our guests were quite accomplished: NCAA national champion coaches, NCAA national coaches of the year, small college coaches, high school/club coaches alike. Regardless of stature the coaches were accessible and rubbing elbows with their peers, aspiring collegiate athletes, and fans. Tony’s vision for an elite national tournament has provided 14 years worth of opportunities for the young ladies from our community and from several other regions to be recognized for their talents, sacrifices, and love of the game.

My daughter played three games on Saturday, and during the two hour down time between a match, my mind replayed an interview with legendary coach Russ Rose, he stated when he first started coaching in Happy Valley he would seek out athletic looking female students on campus and have them throw a rock. This was how volleyball players were “recruited” to play volleyball for Penn State. It is mind blowing how the recruiting process has evolved! I also reflected upon on the first volleyball game I ever attended. In 1995 I was invited by a classmate and Husker player to watch the Nebraska Cornhuskers compete in a match at the Coliseum. Having never previously attended a volleyball game, I accepted her invitation and reluctantly went to the game. I was expecting a slightly advanced version of the game I played during a three-week mini-course in gym class. Within the first five minutes every preconception I had of volleyball was abolished. I was immediately smitten by the enthusiasm of the Husker fans and the level of athleticism exhibited by the players. For two straight hours I was dancing, cheering, screaming, and motioning “ROOF, ROOF, ROOF” as we collectively rocked the old bricks surrounding these hallowed grounds. It was at that precise moment the volleyball bug officially had bitten me, and many years later this moment has impacted the life journey of my two daughters.

Suddenly the shriek of the up-judges whistle hastily brought me back to her present game. During her second game and for this small stretch of days I saw numerous young ladies honor their teammates by caring about their friends success as much if not more than their own. I saw great hits from the outside, middle, and back row, matching the effort of these attackers were the ladies in back row producing even greater ups. Literally thousands of plays, girl after girl demonstrated their willingness to sacrifice their body with outstretched arms to save a point. For one single point, they were willing to hurl their bodies across a gym floor. One solitary point, a point that often would not dictate the outcome of a game, but these young ladies were willing sacrifice themselves time after time for their team. These continual efforts were a constant testament to the true love of volleyball and the honor and privilege it is to belong to a team.

Watching through my lens of a former coach who has accumulated almost two decades of experience, I saw numerous young ladies honor their families, coaches, peers, and most importantly themselves by their play and their conduct off the court. Their commitment to honoring those around them was demonstrated in simple ways, such as showing up on time, shagging for the opposing team, comments of “great shot & great up” to the opponent on the other side of the net. Their commitment to honoring those around them was demonstrated in bigger ways by sacrificing personal goals for team success, effort on the court, encouragement from on and off the court.

I saw coaches honor their player’s efforts with high fives and the sharing of knowledge. I saw our coaches honor our daughters by putting them in the best position to win matches. I saw the growth and development of the team as a true reflection of great practices and training. Practices where our daughters are held to high expectations, practices designed to challenge their abilities both mentally and physically. These coaches honor the investment and trust we have placed in them by always providing their best efforts.

We honor these coaches as players and parents by accepting the humanity of being prone to make an occasional error, especially when you consider the complexity of the rapid decisions made each game. More often then not our coaches make the “right calls” and when they do not, they learn, as do our girls. The coaches that I know and have had the privilege of coaching with are not in it for the money. The honorable coaches want to win just as much as the players and parents. Honorable coaches strive for each girl to improve and develop, they embrace the game and seek to continually honor the game, our daughters, and our club.

As a father of two young girls, one who participated this weekend, I am forever grateful they were given a platform of opportunity that would have been unheard of 40 years ago in women’s athletics. My presidential top hat is tipped in your direction Tony, well done.

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