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Thursday, June 13, 2024
Ross’s Ramblings: Volleyball playoff embodies all that is positive about sport
Ross Robinson reflects on the importance of sports while watching volleyball at Brock University. Pavel Danilyuk Pexels

There is so much wrong with sports these days.

The captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Wayne Gretzky on television promoting gambling. “Get in the game. Gamble now. Here’s how to gamble more.”

Hockey Canada mired in sexual assault scandals, and minor sports coaches accused of bullying and harassing. Teams going on strike.

Happily, I drove up to Brock University to watch the Quigley Cup, with the Brock Women’s volleyball team hosting Queen’s for the Ontario women’s championship. I arrived at the Bob Davis gym 30 minutes before game time, to be confronted by organized pandemonium.

So good to see my former old timer hockey teammate Bob Davis enjoying the games.

Health Science student Emily in the box office had enthusiastically sold me the third-last seat, and I joined students, parents, fans, cheerleaders, Queen’s fans, and a kitchen band with frying pans, drums and banners.

Usher Gigi, a third-year recreation student (they wear name tags) found me a seat three rows behind the band and a bunch of wild and crazy males who were “really into the spirit.” It was loud and crazy, and reassuring to see that students still act like students.

Way back in 1972, I fell in love with women’s volleyball while working at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. A week or two before the Games started, I stumbled upon the Polish and Japanese teams practising in the Volleyball Halle.

I appreciated their athleticism, good attitude, positivity, sportsmanship and genuine love of their sport.

For the next month, I watched a bit of rowing and a bit of track and field, and a whole lot of volleyball. That was 51 years ago and volleyball still rocks my sports spectating world.

Back at Brock it was sport at its best. The two teams were on the floor, going through their efficient, choreographed warm-up routines.

Unlike hockey and basketball, where the athletes often seem to be making up their warm-ups as they go along, the two teams were on a schedule, sharing the court and retrieving errant serves and smashes for each other. Volunteer spectators, mostly young men in cool Brock gear, were helping out.

The host and visiting teams were evenly matched, both having won 20 matchups. The players were from all over Ontario, with three from out west. So athletic, with vertical leaps up to 38 inches. Diving, digging, blocking, killing, flying serves – even the pre-game is so awesome.

The teams, the referee and the on-court officials were introduced, and the first game started on time, at 6:01 p.m.

The noise! The enthusiasm! After every point, quick encouragement among teammates. Never a pout or a frown. Never a negative word or look toward the referee. Do that and you get yellow carded. Once more, a red card and you are gone.

No tantrums or clipboard throwing by the coaches. It’s all so disgustingly positive.

After the first game, which Brock lost 26-24, I turned to talk to the student next to me. I was crying and convulsing, unable to speak, emotionally overcome. This was everything I love about sports. She asked if I was going to be OK.

About ten minutes later, I had composed myself and went to buy popcorn. Only two bucks. Give me three bags, so I could share with the students.

At the concession stand, I chatted with the Queen’s bus driver, from McCoy Coach Lines in Kingston. He loves driving volleyball teams.

“They are such great kids. Dedicated, polite, no prima donnas, no jerks. Classy kids. The worst are hockey teams. Generally speaking, hockey people are angry people.”

Rambling back now to the bleachers (the stands, not the students) on that Saturday evening. So many exciting points and the lead changed hands often.

It came down to the fifth, tie-breaking game. With the score tied at 8, it seems the referee made a bad call at the net. The chap next to me, a “travel team volleyball coach from Kitchener,” started to boo the ref.

I told him he was sounding like a hockey parent. He chuckled and concluded his protestation.

Brock came back to win the deciding game, 15-13. I was caught short, not realizing the last game was only up to 15. Please tell me again why this is the rule. Just to confuse us?

Both teams were classy, half of the players really happy and half really sad.

But after a few minutes, an abundance of sportswomanship. Applauding each other, loving their gold and silver medals. Shaking hands and thanking the refs.

Chins up, ready for the next challenge.

For the Brock team, a trip to Vancouver last weekend for the nationals (where they competed but lost both their matches). For Queen’s, a long bus ride around Lake Ontario to more studying, more fun, and soon, more volleyball games.

Each and every player a winner, knowing they had tried their best.

I love watching volleyball.

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