Friday, August 01, 2008

A Love Affair With Volleyball


I’ve been a volleyball addict for as long as I could remember.

High School

The best memories were in high school. I literally started and ended my days with thoughts of volleyball. My teammates and I went to school early so that we can play at least a set before the flag ceremony. Lunchtimes were usually contests of who can eat the fastest and get to the hard court first. This was a real big deal, because the fastest eaters get the choice 12 spots in Court A – a nicely paved hard court. Latecomers had to be content with Court B – littered with small pebbles and stray gravel from the constant construction the school underwent (up till now I still couldn’t figure out what they were always having fixed). There was a time we didn’t eat lunch at all because the lower years started eating on the court itself to get some “court time”. If we arrived late, we had to wait for them to finish a set before kicking them out, leaving us with only 30 minutes of gameplay. Besides going to school at an abnormally early hour, we left the campus at an even more absurd time – early evening (school ends at about 3:40 in the afternoon). It was at this time in my life that I never cared if I was usually burned to a crisp by the noonday sun, my shoes being constantly repaired or replaced (as long as there was a volleyball, I never cared if I played using my leathers) and scolded for the enth time because I went home so late. The weekends were neither rest nor home time for us, members of the volleyball team. We would usually meet at the park and challenge a rival school for a game of volleyball. We would also pool our left-over allowances for transportation because the schools we challenged were not necessarily located within the city. This was all done unofficially of course, as our school strictly forbade us to associate with other schools in contests and competitions promoting so-called "bad-feeling" amongst students. We used to think it might be because of our school being half a conservative convent (our teachers were sometimes the nuns themselves) and they just didn’t want to encourage any rivalries between their students and the other schools’. I personally thought they were afraid of having any record of losing. Yes, even a measly event such as an impromptu volleyball match would never fail to have the ever-disapproving nuns don their imposing scowls (the top nuns who ran our school were nothing but sinfully proud). Nevertheless, weekends turned out to be the best days when we battled at least 3-4 volleyball teams a day for a prize of 3 coke litros per game, and unofficial though it was, we were the main subjects of the inevitable gossip about our school beating so and so’s school in a volleyball match. We used to go around with our chests puffed out, obviously proud about helping our school gain a “to-beat’ reputation.

Because it was a constant activity, I’ve suffered countless injuries through my years of playing volleyball.

Sprained thumbs – I sprained my thumb every week in my 3rd yr in highschool. Come to think of it, all my fingers were sprained at one time or another. This was really a big bother, being one of our school choir’s lead guitarists, since I could neither pluck nor hold a pick. The Choir mistress actually forbade me to play any more volleyball so that I won’t be totally useless in choir. I ended up playing volleyball in secret for 2 months, hiding from teachers lest they spill the beans to the choir mistress. This went on until she realized I’ve been skipping choir practice more and more often– which she couldn’t afford of course, as I usually directed the instruments group. It was then she realized she couldn’t bar me from volleyball since I always found a way to sneak back into the court. In the end we made a compromise, as long as I didn’t miss choir practice for volleyball anymore, and as long as I took care of my fingers, I could play as often as I wanted.

Black and blue arms – There was this one time that we were so desperate to play but the school custodian locked all the cabinets containing the Mikasas (best ball to play volleyball with) and we didn’t have any personal Mikasa balls of our own (the professional ball costs over 1k, too much for our meager allowances back then). Fortunately, we discovered one of the sophomore students who owned a soccer ball. The Volleyball team went around the school for weeks with their uniforms’ sleeves uncharacteristically pulled down and buttoned. Our secret? Black and blue arms. Though it turned out that the soccer ball was way, way harder than the average volleyball, that didn’t stop us from playing with it for weeks anyway.

Twisted Ankles – If a hard-ass ball didn’t stop us from hitting our arms with it, neither did not being able to run stop us from playing. The person with the sprained ankle usually took the setter position. We helped out by being really careful with our 2nd ball reception because each of us took the designated setter position every other day anyway.

Scrapes and lacerations - If warriors had their battle scars, we had our gashes from trying to receive balls from jump-serves (those of us who had such) and wallops, digging for spikes and running after badly-bumped sets. Those were the medals we wore on our knees, wrists, fingers and on rare and unwanted occasions, our faces. I tell you now, cement courts weren't really made for floor games.

College Ball
College ball turned out to be a completely different experience. Although in my freshman year, still not a day passed without me playing volleyball. The Fine Arts building was strategically built beside Court B. I would play volleyball after every 4-hour fine arts subject and every other subject for that matter. It was no surprise when I took it for PE and aced the course in basic and advanced volleyball, for the summer.
Since volleyball was in my blood, I inevitably decided to try out for varsity. It wasn’t like it was in high school wherein we used 2 days of lunch hours to determine who would be in the team. The college process was a grueling 3-month affair with everybody trying to show their best in running, ball handling, teamplay and over-all athlete etiquette (whatever the hell that meant). Anyway, since I lived and breathed volleyball, I wasn’t one to complain. I went to school early and left late, this time with an official reason. As the months passed by the team positions were slowly filled up one by one. The Inter-university games were fast approaching and I still haven’t secured a spot. Finally, only one spot was left and there were still two of us to choose from. I began to doubting if I really wasn’t as good as I thought I was and all those months of strict regimen was just a mediocre performance on my part. I was pushing myself and from my personal opinion never played better in my life, but still I was in the pending list. One night, I was about to go home coming from a late subject when I decided to pass by the lockers. As I was about to enter, I took a peek to see who were still slugging it that late. Unfortunately, I saw the whole team assembled, plus my current competitor for the spot. They were all looking like they were having a party or something. That was when I realized. Lahat ng mga nakuha sa team ay either ka-Org nung coach or girlfriends ng mga guys sa men’s team and only 2 or three really had talent. As it turns out, my rival was one of the orgmates too. I couldn’t compete with that. So the next day, I didn't show up for practice for the first time and stopped going since then. Needless to say, the spot was given to my counterpart.


For a while I couldn’t play volleyball. I just couldn’t get the experience out of my head and when I did try to play, I couldn’t spike, I couldn’t set, I couldn't receive and worst, I couldn’t serve. It was an athlete’s worst nightmare come true. And it really affected me because I played volleyball not because I liked it, I played it because I loved it passionately.

The Inter-school competitions passed, with our school's Women's volleyball team winning only 2 games I think, from the requisite 12 and a new semester started. Even though I was still feeling bad about not being able to play for my school, being an athlete, I could not not play a sport. I took up lawn tennis for PE that year, hoping to learn something new. Since I was already used to running short distances at seemingly steroid-pumped runs due to the volleyball training, it wasn’t a surprise that I took to tennis like a bird takes to flying, so to speak. My tennis instructor, as it turned out, was also the college’s tennis coach and she immediately signed me for lawn tennis varsity. I only learned later that the reason why she signed me up on my first day of playing was because the basketball coach had his eye on me while we were doing laps around the court and wanted to ask me if I was interested in playing for his team. So, that’s how college went. I was in Lawn tennis varsity for 3 years and even won a Gold medal for the regional games. And while our team always placed 2nd in the inter-college competitions, the volleyball team remained in the low rungs. What still puzzles me to this day, is that however much we won, I didn’t feel as good when I wanted to gloat, as I wanted to.

Eventually though, I got over the whole volleyball-varsity experience and even got comfortable enough to join games wherein the Volleyball team members were playing. The good thing was, it turns out, I never lost my edge in playing volleyball. I always had a secret smirk when I placed a spike perfectly into a Vollleyball varsity member’s face. What’s best is when their coach sees me execute a perfect play without even breaking sweat whilst most of his players can’t even block a ball to save their lives. In my mind, I thought it served them right for choosing politics over talent.
I played college tennis and volleyball on-the-side till I injured my shoulder in my final year at that college. I developed tendonitis because, fool that I am, didn’t do the required stretching before the game. I busted my shoulder while serving for breakpoint.
It was a good thing, I guess, since I was leaving for Diliman the following semester. It took a whole year for my shoulder to heal.

After my shoulder healed, I still played volleyball whenever I could. Sometimes I went to the park or the barangay court to see if there were any guys playing. The best types to play against are the gay guys. Why? They usually don’t give a f*** who they’re playing against, unlike boys – they don’t pull their spikes when pitted against us girls. Hardcore volleyball players disdain pity-play. Guys think that playing half-assed against girls is a form of being nice. Nge. If I wanted “nice” playing, I would’ve looked for elementary students. Besides, gay guys turn volleyball into a work of art. If you’re looking for the perfect arc before the spike, watch a gay guy playing volleyball. Antataas tumalon, ang lalakas pumalo. So instead of trying to block the ball (good luck) you’re left in a kind of breathless awe. Unfortunately, this just gives you enough time to watch the ball hit the pavement with a resounding thud.

It has been years since I last played a good volleyball game. Nowadays, I just can’t seem to find time for anything other than work. However, writing and reading this blog has brought me back to my carefree days. The best thing about it is, I think from now on, whenever I feel like everything’s just turned shitty and bleak, I can always read this post, and remember. There is one love affair that will always be a constant through my life and for me, that’s always something I can smile about.

Fine Arts buddies and other college pals at Court B
fooling around in between plays

sorry for the poor-quality images,
these photos were taken by a manual SLR camera, developed (by me, with not enough fixer, hence the over-exposed blacks&whites), scanned and resized.
yuck. really looked like a geek back then. :)

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