Saturday, November 12, 2005

Cumbaya (volleyball mostly)

It’s a timeout during the fourth game of my daughter’s team’s match with their league rival.  My daughter’s team won the first two games much more easily than expected, but has lost its last five matches to their rival.  The third game went 28-26 to the other team. The fourth game started with a 5-0 run by the other team including four aces.  Her coach calls time out and the players gather in a circle at mid court arms around one another.  After a few seconds, it becomes apparent that my daughter and her teammates are singing.  One of her teammates, Kelsey Mcmahan, is an excellent singer who has a great version of the national anthem, but it’s clear that the point at the moment is not to sing well.  If it were, they wouldn’t be singing Cumbaya.  

Even up here in Northern California, where coffee does not come from cans and it’s not odd to have converstations with large trees, no group of teenagers links arms and starts singing Cumbaya in public as a serious spiritual gesture.  At one level, they’re being silly.  The crowd, however, doesn’t necessarily pick up on their song choice, so no one laughs or even seems to smile much.  Over the last two big matches, the team generally sings Cumbaya during timeouts, but they’ve also done the love theme from the Titanic and I suspect they may eventually choose some even goofier songs should the season go on much longer. At another level, though, my daughter’s team, no matter how the playoffs turn out, has succeeded at a very significant level.  

Teams find their own ways to bond.  With special teams, coaches encourage it, but they don’t impose the form it takes.  When a team starts developing its own rituals and makes them work, I’m convinced that they’ve crossed over into a realm where they are beginning to experience the best thing the team experience has to offer.  When things like this happen, whether it be touching the arch of the entrance to the gym, wearing the same scrunchee, dancing on the court, or singing new agey spirituals in front of crowds, there’s a good chance that the individuals on the court have created an identity for themselves as a team.  Whether the team that results has the talent to win the big match doesn’t ultimately matter that much, the sense of becoming a group with a common purpose is a special experience every child should have. They’ve reached a kind of grace as a team.  

Btw, I ‘ve discovered that Cumbaya or Kumbayah appears to have an interesting history.  It’s Gullah., a dialect of English spoken by a small group of escaped slaves in South Carolina who lived in relative isolation for generations.  The spiritual likely made it’s way to Angola in the 1930’s and then came back to the West as something that sounds “African”, which it is, but it’s like one of those e-mail routings where it goes to twenty seven different servers all around the world before it winds up at the ISP next door.  

Sports movies tend to glory in these details.  My daughter still drops Coach Carter in the DVD and I always find myself watching in the scene where the players start volunteering to run suicides and do pushups to help the erstwhile drug dealer/three point shooter with bad hair guy meet his deal with the coach.  In Rudy, it’s the point where the players start handing in their jerseys unless Rudy gets to suit up for his last game and get a career as a motivational speaker.  In Remember the Titans, I’d say it happens either when the big fat guy (okay not a politically correct term) starts singing at Gettysburg or when the players hold a sit in at a bar to remind people that Denzel Washington won an Academy Award once.  In Miracle, Mike Euruzione takes on Herb Brooks for bringing in a ringer at the end of tryouts and says “It’s either him or all of us.”  Okay, my daughter’s team has not had an “us” moment worthy of a sports movie, nor are they likely to be memorable enough a team to the outside world for anyone to much care, but I’ve seen enough teams to know that most don’t find their own “Us” moment.  Think about the Kerry campaign last year. :}  On the other hand, think about the Bush-Cheney campaign when they appeared onstage at the end of the Republican convention without Mary in their own "most of us" moment.  

I’m trying to savor this whole hold hands and sing Cumbaya thing, because it turned out to be such a strange week.  The linked worlds of club tryouts and high school playoffs intersected in our family’s life with more than its usual emotional force.  At the same time, I wound up in the middle of’s venture into message board reality tv.  I’d written a long article on a club volleyball team from ten years ago only to discover that the events of 1995 coincided with the most famous scandal/controversy in junior sports.  I spent a long time going back and forth with the editor.  My original version discussed the scandal openly.  The editor/owner of the site  was reluctant because it promised to cause a firestorm on his message board and because my story wasn’t meant to be about the scandal at all.  Ultimately, I agreed to edit it one more time and we left in a vague reference to what happened.  In the meantime, I got to call the fellow at the center of the scandal and check my facts.

For two months, I got to think of myself as some volleyball version of Matthew Cooper or Judith Miller.  No, I wasn’t protecting confidential sources from Patrick Fitzgerald, but I was faced with one of those dilemmas that torture real journalists every now and then.  What do you omit?  What do you have to tell?  How long do you have to keep reminding people of someone else’s past indiscretion?  For instance, how long does it have to be before one can mention Michael Jackson without mentioning little boys?  Can we now say Bill Clinton without saying Monica?  Can we refer to Oliver North without mentioning that he was convicted for theft?  

For almost a week, the article sat there without comment, then a woman who had been a former business partner of the club director in question, jumped into the fray.  She felt it was her duty to make explicit what my article had left vague and made a good case for her point of view in the process. The wife of the club director answered back.  The former business partner, now a prominent club director herself, answered the answer.  The wife of the club director answered again.  Other people started criticizing me for covering up or cheating history.  Suddenly, all the heat had nothing to do with my actual article and everything to do with the repercussions or lack of repercussions of a scandal from ten years ago and the fact that one club director was still involved in junior volleyball.  This definitely was no “Cumbaya” moment.

In the meantime on a seemingly unrlelated front, my daughter was feeling torn out of dual loyalties.  Our current club director had been my older daughter’s volley mentor for many years.  He coached her both in high school and club for five years and volleyball became and remains an important part of the older one’s life.  For three years, my daughter had a club coach who mentored, sponsored, pushed her development along.  In particular, in the summer before high school, my daughter wanted badly to make the team.  Her coach got her out playing in coed open gym and pre-season clinics that made a huge difference for her.  Last year, my younger daughter’s coach announced that she wanted to start her own club.  

     It’s hard to be the parent of a child who’s in the middle of a volleycustody situation.  My heart goes out to any families who find themselves in these kinds of situations.  It’s no one’s fault and junior sports has microscopic significance in the true order of world events, yet in our household all these club tryouts and who would be one whose team assumed greater significance than they ever should have.

     Last Friday, the President continued to indulge in the big lie.  This time, he’s saying he was wrong about Iraq, but so were those darned democrats who saw the same information he had seen.  Alas, that’s not exactly true.  It was the administration who gave the senate the information and as it turns out it wasn’t exactly the same information, because it didn’t include all those little pieces that the administration likely hid.  Let me put two small things together.  If the congress had the same info as the democrats, what the heck was Lewis Libby bothering to cover up?  Unfortunately, things have slipped so badly in the media, that they have headlines like “Bush fires back at critics” instead of the more accurate “There you go again.”  How bad is it, when you wind up lying about your own lying?

     Something tells me that most people who follow this blog, I hate to break the news  but there may be more people who know who really cooked the pre-war intelligence estimates than have ever read this blog, expect me to tie all of this together in my usual randomly associative fashion.  I’m not sure that I  know how.

     During that same volleyball match, my wife played one of these behind the scenes heroic roles.  The other school’s young male fans had taken to shouting lewd things at our players.  Their administrators didn’t seem to be inclined to do much of anything about it, apparently considering it a form of school spirit.  My wife made a point of talking to one of my daughter’s high school’s administrators and getting him to promise to come to the match.  This time, the refs did intercede on at least one occasion and though this didn’t stop this odd cheering practice completely, it made a difference.  My wife is one of the few people I know who sees these sorts of things and actually does something about them.

     I should also mention that because of the success of a stuffed electronic hamster brought by an online acquaintance to another tournament, I had bought one of my own through E-Bay and brought him to this match to play the position of good luck charm.  When the hamster’s home, I take care to keep him out of the reach of our remaining cats least we wind up with fake fur and little integrated circuits on our front doorstep.  

     It is not coaches who give teams their identity, ultimately it’s the players themselves who must find their epiphany.  When it happens, it doesn’t matter if it’s Joyce’s Dubliners or the Mighty Ducks.   I think much the same is true of countries and families.  Such  a long and strange week.  I think about what my daughter worked through with her team during a time of magnified teen volley angst.  I think about my wife’s quiet way of asserting herself to protect our kids, usually without even telling them.  I don’t even feel obligated to share all the bad things that ever happened to my family.  As fractured as the rest of the world seems whether it be volleyworld or geopolitical world, right now I’m just reveling in the fact  that all I seem to be able to hear is singing.  


At 11/25/2005 08:09:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The singing and other types of bonding with these H.S. teams is a super benefit for all concerned. There is a huge huge benefit that Campolindo gets from their full 20 minutes of 'out in the parking lot' singing they do before warmups for each each match. It is awesome. They gather round a couple SUVs, turn up the CD's they have burned, arms around shoulders...sing shout jump and dance. Amazing.
A new couple of fans/parents and their two new vb daughters... ages 12/9...came to the first Campo match they had ever been to Tues nite. They happened to arrive in the parking lot just when the Campo team started in. The 4 of them stood nearby mesmerized they said for the 20 minutes. They said it was other worldy...their daughters were blown away...
needless to say they are Campo fans permanently....and the daughters will show up on Campo's squad in 3-5 years.
I happened to arrive to hear the singing last year, and rarely miss it.

At 11/26/2005 09:58:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I wish I'd cuaght the parking lot thing when we are at Campolindo a couple weeks ago. When I first attended a volleyball tournament some thirteen years ago, I was amazed by all the celebration rituals that combined dance, cheering, and singing.

While the winning is certainly important, the bonding seems to be equally important. Of course, when both happen as seems to have happened with Campolindo this year, that's even better. But I have seen teams that win listlessly and without any feeling of community. If it had to be one or the other, I think it might be more satisfying to just have the bonding.


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