On a recent weekend, I reluctantly served as the line judge for my seventh grade daughter’s volleyball game. For three straight sets I stood in harm’s way as the ball whipped by within inches (yards can also be measured in inches) of my head.
As players blasted their serves like white vinyl rockets over that net, flashbacks to junior high came flooding back.
Up until eighth grade, my extracurricular skill set had not expanded much beyond piano lessons and a knack for winning cakes at the annual school carnival cakewalk. Armed with a new pair of fiberglass orthotics for my flat feet and looking for a new indoor activity during ragweed season, this seemed like a perfect time to try volleyball.
I was out of my league, but, like the saints and martyrs we were taught to emulate, I persevered through six torturous weeks on the Queen of the Holy Rosary B team. I remember the sweating, the sting of the ball on my forearms and wondering if there were any positions that wouldn’t involve direct ball contact. Most of all, I remember the Great Upset of 1985.
Our team was up by three, the opposing team had the ball, and I stood opposite the server, a girl who would go on to play college volleyball, but would first find herself with ample opportunity to refine her overhand serve.
I put myself in the ready position (wringing my hands and praying) as she prepared to serve.
The ball came straight to me. I stared at it all the way to my upper arms, where it ricocheted into the crowd of horrified parents. Point, her.
The ball raced towards me at a speed never before seen by eighth graders. (This was before the era of sports psychology, private trainers and steroids.) I let it fly by, thanking God for getting me out of that situation with grace and dignity. Unfortunately the ball was in by three feet. Point, her.
The ball whizzed by my head. The pummeling continued.
Off my thumbs.
Bulldozed the six of 10 fingers going for the set.
Eyes shut, I one-handed it into the net.
Serve after painful serve flew directly to me. I gave it my all, which consisted of chanting a mantra to boost my self-esteem and hoping my coach would have the good sense to pull me out. It did not, however, consist of returning one single serve within the boundaries of the volleyball court.
Twenty-one points by one server. In a row. A new league record had been set, technically by both of us, though she was the only one honored for it. An upset, indeed.
As I held down my corner of the court that weekend, offering line rulings with moderate confidence, I could not help but repeat my mantra (“I am the Queen of the Cakewalk”) as I looked at Amelia’s ready stance, thankful the only thing missing from her game was my athletic prowess.