As you know, I was at the men’s national volleyball championships this past weekend. The last time I went to Nationals was almost 20 years ago; it’s been hosted too far away for us to go in the last few years.
I love the atmosphere of Nationals. It’s like a big party full of fans. Lots of really loud music, lots of good volleyball. Everyone there, for the most part, loves volleyball. There are so many knowledgeable people there, so many students of the game. Sometimes it seems with volleyball like it’s a fringe sport, because it never gets covered on TV, never gets media attention, and so unless you are “in the know” you never have any idea that these events are going on.
I love the fact that the teams play their best volleyball on this weekend. These teams come from universities across Canada after their conference playoffs. They all want to win, and they all have a shot at it. And that makes for some exciting matches.
I went this year to cover the sport for my volleyball blog, and BDH came with me to take pictures. We sat down to watch warm ups, where the players were hitting balls as hard as they could and the fans were “oooh”-ing and “aaah”-ing over each big hit. We got familiar with player names, heights, that sort of thing. I told BDH who the big stars were, who he should watch, what teams I was cheering for. The first night, we watched two very good matches. It was really exciting. Really excellent volleyball.
Sunday, we went back for playoffs. We watched my favourite team, Dalhousie, win 5th place. Then for the next match, we found ourselves surrounded by UBC fans, and the father of their best player was sitting in front of us. He was very proud of his son, and with good reason: his son had an excellent match, and was probably the best hitter out there. But they lost.
And then, a strange thing happened. The son of the fellow in front of us came up into the stands to see his family. And I realized: Oh my God. He’s just a BABY. He’s so YOUNG. I actually gasped. I hadn’t realized — well maybe I had, but had forgotten. In the excitement of watching in the stands, seeing these great athletes do exceptional things, I had forgotten that they are just university students. These athletes are so powerful, hit the ball so hard, jump so high. But they are so very young. I started to look around at these boys. They’re 18 through, say, 24 or so. They are men, sure, but they’re just starting out in life. They have young, fresh faces and pimples and bad fashion sense and still have the gawkiness of boys. I was just so surprised by it.
And then, during the intermission, I looked around at the fans. There were fans of all ages and shapes and sizes. I looked at the young university girls, some of the girlfriends of the players. So young! So tiny! This is before middle aged spread starts to hit, clearly. Parents, friends, relatives — all sorts of people.
The P.A. was playing all sorts of songs, mostly classic rock songs. An AC/DC song came on. I continued to look around. And then I noticed, over among the Winnipeg fans, and older fellow, probably mid-to-late 50s, dancing around a little bit. TO AC/DC. He was grooving in that Older Man sort of way, that you only ever see at weddings. And then I realized: This song was probably popular when he was young. This is a song of HIS generation. No wonder he was rocking. This is HIS music. And then Ozzy Osborne came on, and the B.C. Dad in front of me was dancing and shaking his tambourine in time with the music. This was also a song of his generation.
And then, I looked over at the guys broadcasting the event. One of the men was a guy I had known for a little while, many years ago. I was 18 and he was probably about 21 at the time. We met at tournaments and hung out with the same group of people and partied, and at a national championships just like this one, too. He was a man that, when I was a teenager, was one of my heroes, one of my big crushes. And then I met him, and he was a regular kid in university (albeit with an incredible athletic career), just like me. And now, there he was, salt and pepper hair, not so big and muscular as he once was. A nice looking man, married now, probably a dad. Probably also marvelling at the youth of these boys. Tapping his feet and grooving a little when “Ice Ice Baby” came on. A long way from the party boy and Olympic athlete he once was.
And so I realized that age is a number, but youth is in your mind. All these people were of all these different ages, and yet, they were right in their element. They were just the age they were supposed to be. How old or how young they are depends on perspective, how they feel inside, and who is looking at them. I didn’t feel all bittersweet that I was no longer young like the players, that myself and the sportscaster were no longer in our prime. I didn’t find it odd that the older folks were rocking out to Trent Reznor.
It all fit, just fine.