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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The athletic opposite finding a home in sports

Published: October 21, 2011
Section: Opinions

Most people play sports because they are competitive or athletic or “into” sports. Not me. In 10th grade I tried out for my high school’s girls’ volleyball team to make friends. Playing sports was a way of life in my high school. In most high schools it is the elite few who achieve the status of athlete and receive their peers’ adoration. My high school was too small for that. There were about 230 kids in my high school. Almost everyone played a sport so that our school could reach the minimum number of players to have a team. My brother joined the baseball team only after his best friend said to him, “Seriously, if you don’t join, we won’t have enough kids and we won’t have a team. If you join, you can sit on the bench the whole season.” And he did.

Everyone played sports. You were odd if you didn’t. So, I tried out for volleyball despite having never played it before in my life, not knowing any of the rules or techniques, and not being very athletic in general. I made the team because everyone who tried out made the team.

At first it was jolting. I couldn’t do anything the other girls could do. I could not understand how they could hit the ball to someone. Every time I hit it, it went flying off to the side. But the other girls on the team were really nice and they helped me develop my skills. I still wasn’t very good but I wasn’t atrocious either.

That year marked a huge change for me: My confidence was boosted, I made new friends and I found myself interested in something that wasn’t academic. That all changed the next year. My health acted up on me again and I could no longer play. I was heartbroken.

After telling one my best friends from the team, I suppose she told everyone else because within the hour my e-mail inbox was filled with e-mails from my teammates, telling me they hoped they would still see me at practices and games. Later I spoke with my coach and gushed that I still wanted to be on the team even though I could no longer play.

My coach came up with a solution and I became the team’s manager. It became my job to keep the scorebook during the game, work the scoreboard, keep track of the players’ individual statistics and be on-hand with the medical kit should someone get injured.

I was thrilled to still be on the team. I went to all the games, dressed up with the team on game days and hung out with them as a peer. Their ongoing support got me through two years that were medically rough on me. I went through long bouts of illness and even a lengthy hospitalization. But, after each, I would come home to e-mails from my teammates wishing me well and keeping me informed about what was happening at school.

At the end of senior year, my friends dragged me along to the school’s annual sports awards dinner. I went to see which of my friends would win MVP, the Coaches Award and so on. I was not expecting to get anything. When it came time for the girls’ volleyball awards, my coach got up and lamented the fact that seven girls on his team were seniors who would be graduating. Then he said, “I’m losing my two setters and my two liberos, but that is not who the team will miss the most. I keep telling everyone that the hardest position to fill will be the most thankless one: our manager.” He then called me up and gave me a “manager’s award,” an award he had made up. I received a quartz volleyball necklace, a “best volleyball manager” pin, and my varsity letter and pin.

I don’t really like sports and I don’t really understand them. It is odd then that sports played such a vital role in my life. Without the support of my teammates, those two years would have been unbearable. They and the coach always made me feel like I belonged and like I was part of the team. I was their manager and they were my cheering section.