Humans of Volleyball

The Thing I’m Doing This Year #14

I went to Phoenix for USA Volleyball’s annual meetings and the Open National Championships. Here are a few notes from the trip:

  • I had lunch with Beany and spent Happy Hour with Nana, Grandpa Chuck, Beany and Joe. That was fun.
  • Whenever I go anywhere, I try to find the cool coffee shop, an awesome local restaurant and, always, the local independent bookstore where I buy a book to support the independent booksellers. I found the Lawn Gnome and bought “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith.
  • When I went over to the venue to check it out, I wasn’t really sure where to go, so I decided to follow these two volleyball players. And I was happily surprised, out of the 1,000s of players in town, the two players I ran into on the streets of Phoenix were Nathalie and Amanda, who played on the team with whom I went to Zurich.
  • I spoke to a group of people representing the various volleyball regions. Most did not look up from their laptops, but I’m sure they were listening.
  • I spoke to the Board of Directors. Kerri Walsh Jennings smiled at me and I had a good conversation with Olympic gold medalist Todd Rogers afterwards. I also found out that our outgoing Board chair was just named President of Nerdist Industries. I’m going to look him up next time I’m in L.A.
  • I communicated with Misty May, Kent Steffes, Dain Blanton, Stacy Sykora, Lloy Ball and Debbie Green, all legends of the sport. Loved meeting Lloy, hero of the gold-medal winning 2008 men’s indoor team. That dude is a charismatic leader; wish I would have went to the players’ party that he hosted. A born leader.

But my favorite interaction was with a group of old guys. I wrote this for a feature on Instagram I call, “Humans of Volleyball.”

Rusty’s of the 76-and-over division at the #USAVopen … (l-to-r): Ken Bleasdel, Phil Klabunde, Bill Anderson, Norm Macleod, Lee Johnson, Jim Hopton, and Herb Simon. Average age of 77; some have played together for 35 years; from all over the U.S; seeded second in today’s playoffs.

I guess it’s hard to get a practice together. Herb: “No practice. Can’t do it.” Phil: “We’re lucky if we can play together, let alone practice.” Bill: “We play the younger kids at home.” Norm: “I think it shows that we don’t practice.”

So you don’t practice, but how did you do at this tournament last year? “We won. Didn’t lose a match. Didn’t lose a game.” What is the secret of your success? Ken: “The secret is players who play as a team.”

They are also resilient. Norm just finished seven weeks of radiation for prostate cancer a week. Norm, I noticed that you’re the only one who jumps. Is that fair to say? “I’ve never been accused of that.” Bill had a total shoulder replacement two years ago.

Why do you guys like volleyball? Herb: “It’s just the friendship. Being here, winning is secondary to just being here together as a group and having fun with each other.”

The next installation … “Did I Pack Underwear?”

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