Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Dedicated Parent Makes the Best Fan

People sometimes ask me "How do you have time for all this volleyball stuff? Don't you have a wife and a bunch of kids?"

Here's a trick: I don't ever, ever, ever believe it when people say "There just isn't enough time in the day". That statement is universally and unequivocally false in all contexts in which it is used. We get used to saying it, but it just isn't true. There IS always enough time in the day. We just need to learn how to use it more wisely and fully. You see, I have a very, very short priority list in my life and if an event doesn't fit on that list, then I literally ignore it and move on. I care about God and family, my job and my hobbies. That's it.

My hobbies revolve virtually entirely around baseball and volleyball. If some opportunity comes my way to do something that doesn't involve God, family, being a professor, baseball or volleyball, then my answer is going to be "No" 99.99% of the time. Too limited? Too boring? Not enough variety, you claim? Hogwash.

So many people have got so much going on ALL THE TIME that they are basically addicted to being busy. That ain't for me, man. I compartmentalize and organize my time to a high, high degree. When I am with my family, they have 100% of me. No job. No volleyball. Nothing. Just them. But, when I am in "job" mode or "volleyball" mode, then I am completely dedicated to the cause. And that's why virtually all of you see me as a volleyball loving stat-head and have never met my family. I keep things that are important to me highly organized and separated so that whatever I am currently "on" gets all of me.

I can assure you - I have a wonderful wife and three amazing children. My time with them is active and cultivating. It's not idle. I can assure you - I have a job full of responsibilities in which I am considered successful.

A SHORT priority list. Try it. It works.

One of the recent ways I have found myself spending more time with my oldest son, Jacob, is through his local "select" (volleyball parents, think "club") baseball team here in Nacogdoches. He has been invited to play on "club" teams before, but after years of playing "all-stars" type tournaments, we now find ourselves travelling from city to city a few times a month playing in various weekend tournaments. This new experience for me as a parent has caused me to reflect on all the illustrations of parental sacrifice I have witnessed through the years of watching SFA Volleyball.

I've met some amazing parents and continually their sacrifice absolutely floors me. The girls these parents travel to see will probably only realize the dedication shown many years down the line. I played basketball all through high school until my Father passed away from lymphoma right after my Junior season ended. Because of this and other circumstances, I didn't play my Senior season at Spring High School which sits just north of Houston. During the summer time, I would play on various teams that might now be considered "club" style teams. At the time, I just wanted to play. I didn't think about all the games my Mom - and my Dad when healthy - were having to travel to all over the Houston area. I didn't think about all the shoes, jerseys, balls, equipment, tournament fees, booster club events, etc, etc., that they were involved in - all just because I wanted to throw a ball into a hoop.

Then I think about the college athlete. Even if I had enjoyed a successful Senior season in high school, I wasn't good enough to play basketball at the junior college level, much less the NCAA DI level. That wasn't even discussed at my house. Not one day. But, all the parents I've witnessed come through Johnson Coliseum and Shelton Gym during the years are making an even heavier sacrifice than what the parents of a high school or club team athlete has to make. The amazing thing? They do it.. and they love doing it.

Again, I've met some amazing parents during my 10 or so really devoted years to SFA Volleyball. As a tribute to all the parents both past and present, here are a few of my favorite stories. There are many, many more.

During the 2001 season, one of the first that I was a regular in the stands at Johnson Coliseum, we had a defensive minded player named Julie Goodson. Like our current Senior Melissa Miksch, Goodson was at times a three rotation back row player during part of her career and at others played a little at the libero position. Julie's parents were particularly kind to me. They were regulars at home matches, driving up from Julie's home town of Alvin. Julie's father, Charlie, was a jeweler and one day I happened to tell him that my brother had given me a watch years ago and that recently the crystal in the watch had cracked when I accidentally dropped it. I had obtained a local estimate on replacing the crystal and I had judged the cost too expensive to pay for. Charlie asked if I'd bring the watch to the next home match just so he could look at it.

A few weeks later, I brought the watch to a home game and he then asked if he could take it back to Alvin with him because he thought he could custom cut a new crystal to fit. I told him he was welcome to do that, but to make sure and let me know what the cost would be. He assured me that it would be less than the estimate I had obtained at a local shop. A few weeks later, he brought the watch back to a home game in a nice new jewelers box and the crystal perfectly replaced and fit. I was amazed - the watch literally looked brand new now. The cost? Nothing. He wouldn't take a dime for it. He said it was his way of saying thanks for supporting SFA Volleyball and his daughter. I was shell-shocked and grateful. Such random acts of kindness aren't forgotten, people. That was 10 years ago and I tell that story just about every season to someone.. and now you know.

One of the true greats in SFA Volleyball history is JJ Jones. Just look through the record books for setters that attended SFA and you'll see JJ's name scattered all throughout. JJ was recently an assistant for Justin Gibert at Lamar and now is assisting former UCA head coach Steven McRoberts at Tulsa. JJ's Dad, Peron, was quite the character and as unique as his first name. You could recognize his voice from anywhere in the gym. He would literally lead cheers. Right during the middle of sets, he would jump up, organize a cheer, and get everyone in the joint hopping and clapping and laughing. He always brought axes - some foam, some plastic, some wood - to matches and would wave and bang them all during the match.

During my rookie season on the public address microphone in Johnson Coliseum, JJ's Dad was the VERY first person to come up to me before a match and encourage me. He always recognized the small roles that those of us that work at the media table preform. Without fail, he would acknowledge us all.. the scorekeeper, the stat callers, the libero tracking sheet people, the music guy or gal, and the PA announcer. He knew us all and considered us essential when in reality we are secondary. Anyone who attended games during the JJ Jones era knew her father. His energy and dedication were unrivaled.

In 2006, we brought in a recruit to watch a match and she and her father sat on the front row right behind the SFA bench taking it all in. Her name was Laurel Kuepker and during her four years that would follow at SFA, I would be continually amazed by the dedication of her Dad. Anyone who knew Laurel, or Lo, as she was known, became aware that she was proud to represent her home state of Indiana. Lo's father, Dan, would not only attend most home matches - coming all the way from Indiana EACH time, but he would also travel to many of our road matches in Louisiana and elsewhere. He'd fly, drive, teleport - whatever it took - to see his daughter play.

He'd tell me stories about Laurel playing in high school and the pride would literally gush from his lips. Some of his favorite stories were about Lo's attacking abilities in high school. Now, to get the irony, you have to realize that Kuepker was a 5'6" libero/DS/Setter type. The thought of her "attacking" in NCAA DI volleyball was well.... far-fetched. But, to hear Dan tell it, she could rip balls from the left pin over 6'6" middle blockers with ease in high school. I loved these stories. They just told me the obvious. This guy was dedicated. His daughter had decided to leave Indiana and come play volleyball in Texas and gosh darn it, that wasn't stopping him. Many, many times I "forgot" that after matches he didn't just have a few hours drive home. I took for granted that I would see him every other weekend at matches. The sacrifice he made was amazing. I wish I knew how many total miles that man drove and flew during the four years Laurel was at SFA. We don't keep stats on such things, but it has to be an all time SFA record.

The same year that Lo arrived in Nacogdoches, we also brought in a tall, slender dark-haired outside hitter named Kelsey Owens. She soon became universally referred to as "KO". I would actually announce her as "Kelsey 'KO' Owens" when doing the starting lineups. She told me once that she wanted me to always do that after just impromptu going with it once early in her sophomore season. KO suffered through some injuries during her latter years at SFA, but when healthy, she was a strong outside hitter and she really ranks as one of my favorite players during the years of watching SFA Volleyball. Her parents, Bruce and Lori, were regulars at matches and would often strike up conversations with me before and after games.

When I first began this blog three years ago, I knew one of the things I wanted to do is travel more to away matches that were within driving distance. Doing this occasionally puts me in position to stay at the team hotel or wind up eating with the team at a restaurant or hanging out with parents and players between matches at tournaments. Now, some people just do not like to eat or read or sit by themselves quietly, but I am perfectly content to do these things. I know the girls want to hang out with the girls and the parents tend to want to hang out with each other, so I tend not to look to be included in much, and that is just fine. But Bruce and Lori would always invite me to eat at their table or sit in their corner or join in on their conversation. I'd always come away from these situations genuinely impressed with their kindness.

I remember in particular a tournament at Baylor - my undergraduate Alma matter. We all wound up back at the team hotel after the first day of competition and many players and parents began eating at the hotel's restaurant. The coaching staff was nowhere to be seen - probably already shacked up in their rooms preparing for the next day's game. I was hungry after a day of sitting in the gym, but I certainly wasn't going to impose on daughter-family time after a match. That's a big no-no. I had decided that I would be perfectly content to just grab a burger and fries and eat over in the corner while re-reading the days' box scores or looking through the local paper.

Kelsey had her parents and grandparents in town and they were all ordering food and pulling tables together getting ready for a late night meal. Bruce came over and invited me to join in. I felt a little awkward about it, but then Kelsey asked me to do the same. A simple gesture, but one that I won't forget. Another random act of kindness that was typical of the Owens' and illustrated that - at least in some way, shape or form - they thought of me as an ally.

All these parents. All this sacrifice. All this travel and commitment. The dedicated parent makes the best fan. Yet, virtually all of the parents I have known throughout the years have also gone out of their way to be kind. They don't owe people like me that kindness, you know? They are there for their daughters.

Think about it from their point of view. Each of their daughters was a high school and/or club dynamo. Team leaders. They were the best scorers, attackers, blockers, setters, defenders at their high school or on their club team. All the other parents knew who they were because their daughters were the best. Now, they are here at SFA and in most cases their daughters aren't the studs anymore. This is a different ballgame. A faster, more competitive ballgame. Their daughters are dealing with being away from home, adjusting to college, getting up at ungodly hours to lift weights and work out. They are travelling many more miles than ever before - in some cases - to sit on a bench, but still have the pride to wear a college jersey. Why, with all this adjustment, and all this pressure, and all this newness, would the parent of a player give one care about someone in my position? I ask myself and remind myself of this constantly.

"These people owe you nothing. They love their daughters and they are here to support them. They don't have to care about bloggers and the like. You are just a novelty. You don't play. You don't win and lose. You don't practice and you don't wear the jersey. You are way, way down the line. Know your place."

Yet, again.. here we are now in 2011. A decade after the Goodson's. Many years after Peron Jones. A year or so removed from Dan Kuepker and Bruce and Lori Owens. And what do we have?



Because kindness still triumphs.

Kindness and the sense of "team" still rules. Doesn't matter whether we go 3-28 or 25-6... we- yes, WE, in some small way.. are alike. We wear the same letters on our chest and that unites.

I think as a parent, I am just now starting to "get it". If you are for my kid, then I can easily be for you. Anytime someone goes out of their way to pay attention to my son's efforts on the baseball diamond, I can identify with them. Maybe that's what all these parents feel?

I don't know. I am just amazed at the level of dedication and camaraderie I have witnessed through the years. Without them knowing it, maybe the support of parents like those in this article, the ones we have now, and many others throughout the years are what has TRULY kept me coming back. Oh, I love volleyball. I think the game is awesome. I could (and have, in some cases) talk your ear off about it.

But, to think of the people I've met. To think of the parents I've seen commit so much and sacrifice so much for their kids. Wow. It's amazing when you think of it.

So, girls: Realize what you have. You've got some amazing parents.
Parents: Thanks. Your dedication inspires me to do the same as my kids continue in school and sports as they get older.

And to anyone who just might be reading this article as a prospective player or parent of prospective player?

Yeah. You want to be like us. This is an amazing place.

We play some pretty good volleyball most of the time.

But I've got a lot of memories that really aren't about volleyball. They are simply about people making the conscious choice to be nice.

Refreshing, isn't it?

The Dedicated Parent Makes the Best Fan. I'm lucky to have known many of you throughout the years. Thanks for your example.