It’s been a tough week for me in terms of personal, professional and political happenings. I don’t know about you, but I’m in the need of a bit of levity. With football season in full force, this post seemed relevant. And while many of us may hold grudges detrimental to ourselves and others, perhaps I’ll begin moving past this trivial one first.
Yes, a few of you know about this. Now, I do realize it’s ridiculous to hold grudges. Especially silly things spanning more than 40 years. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud to hold a masters degree from the University of Washington and will always extol the wonderful education I got from UW’s School of Public Health. That being said… you’ll never catch me rooting for a Husky Team. Now, of course, if my spouse reads this blog he will quickly remark that you’ll rarely catch me rooting for just about any team. At least outside of being a spectator at a live athletic event. He likes to remind me that for someone who called themself an athlete I sure don’t do much sports-related television watching, nor do I shout at the television (like him). To be fair to me, I do occasionally get excited about the Olympics, women’s soccer, and some other once-in-a-blue-moon activity, but frankly, I have way too many other things begging for my attention, (books to read, books to write, dinner to make, walks to be taken….) rather than sit and watch a game on television, where people yell at each other and complain about officiating.
So, back to those Huskies. Yes, I loved playing sports growing up and into adulthood. Midway through high school I thought I’d like to try to be a college athlete. I considered my options (and although Dad always liked to call me a 12 varsity letter winner, to be honest I did play JV volleyball and run JV track my freshman year): weighing my preferences and abilities, I decided, even though I was short, that volleyball might be my best bet. Going into senior year I told my basketball coach I was planning to play year-round club volleyball. (I appreciate how much easier it was, in certain respects, to be an athlete in the late 1970’s than today.) Soon after my Cardinal athletic director pulled me aside, advising me she thought continuing through my senior year playing school-based sports would probably be the better thing. And yes, Jean Cheshire, you were right! After volleyball season I continued on with basketball with my buddies, and instead of track played my favorite second base position in softball, including catching a few stellar line drives during the PIL Allstar Game that I’ll never forget (I hope). That game my Grampa Daum showed up by TriMet to watch the game, and afterward Mom drove me, while I changed into my waitress uniform enroute, to my shift at Dan and Louis Oyster Bar.
Later that year I selected the University of Montana, chosen more for its location than anything else, and people that I thought at the time, I would have more in common than what I (perhaps wrongfully) assumed was left for me in Oregon. I reached out to the volleyball coach, making my case to be considered for a scholarship. Lucky for me I was able to take a few academic awards with me – and tuition was nothing like it is today – as I was simply invited by Coach to go to tryouts three weeks before school started to see if I was even cut out for the team. I took this invitation seriously, working out around my summer job: lifting weights and playing ball. I paid for my second ever-in-my-life airplane flight (this, a one-way ticket), arriving at the tiny Missoula Airport, where a nice old lady offered me a ride to campus. (She was probably my age, now.) While others grumbled, especially the bigger girls, I felt lucky when our three weeks of triples began each morning before breakfast with sprints on the football field. I knew I was fast and quick, and in decent shape to stand out to the coach. My entire athletic career was built on being scrappy and quick, while lacking the technical finesse that made a few of my high school teammates All American Athletes.
I was excited that fall of 1979, my freshman year of college, to make the varsity traveling team of the University of Montana Grizzlies. There’s a lot I remember – like playing a tournament at Portland State University Thanksgiving weekend and being allowed to join my family for two hours before returning to a hotel room with my teammates, and recognizing referees and the PSU Coach (remember Marlene Piper?) from my high school days. And there was a lot of good. But it is hard to be a student athlete carrying 18 credits, especially in the days when the Grizzlies would play teams like the Beavers and the Ducks and the Vikings and the Cougars and the Huskies – so far away – along with the Bobcats. I dreaded knowing that the team van would leave early on a Wednesday morning, so that I would miss chemistry and biology exams scheduled later in the week. I was taking an honors philosophy class – me the only non-major – and for some odd reason the instructor felt every example he shared with me needed to be sports-related. It was the days before college volleyball’s libero position, and I wasn’t the starting setter, so sometimes I played front row as a hitter, but usually against the most competitive teams I was useful for my scrappiness in the back court as a back court specialist, and for my serve. It was great and I loved it, although I hated missing class. But then, I started questioning some of the unintended consequences of competition. And I started to realize that I’d come to Missoula for mountains and rivers, and it wasn’t looking like I’d have much time to take in those vistas, lakes, and winding hiking trails.
My still most vivid memory is where this blog finally returns to those Huskies. Late Fall 1979 we were in Seattle at the Husky gym or arena, or whatever they called it back then. Now, we Grizzlies were an OK team: we ended up about middle of our bracket. None of us were huge, although I was the shortest. I claimed to be 5’4″, but honestly, I never stood higher than 5’3″. For reasons I certainly don’t understand today, given we were up against the toughest team in the league, I found myself at the net playing front court opposite the Mammoth Huskies. More typically I would get substituted out when rotated to the front court, and then rotated back in to serve and play back court, unless we were against a team like Gonzaga or Idaho, or even the Cougars (in those days). For whatever reason Coach had, on that tournament day, I wasn’t substituted out and moved into the left front court position against…GIANTS! All of them spanned taller than 6 feet (and were built in a way my body would never emulate). And then, it happened. They started trash talking me! Now, I’m no prude: I grew up with four brothers and lots of boys, playing Little League as a kid, and playground games competing with the best of them. But I was also fair-minded and taught to always be a good sport, especially when you were top dog. Now these Huskies were not only shooting the F-word at me, but they were mixing and matching it with all kinds of derogatory synonyms for being short! I was so relieved to get to the serving position that game, and I don’t even remember what happened after it, other than leaving this memory along with a bad taste in my mouth for anything to do with the University of Washington Huskies.
It was the next year I decided, enough was enough. I’d loved my opportunity to play college ball, and was glad I had done it, but I really did feel I was there to get an education. (And I had already ended up meeting lifetime friends playing City League.) And maybe, beyond that, I realized that this level of competition just wasn’t for me, Coach developing a reputation as not always kind when riled. It was the same year I decided officiating wasn’t for me, after having collected payment reffing college intramural and local high school volleyball games. The end to my officiating career, was a Missoula high school game in which I was the “up top” referee, and one of the team coaches was an ex-boyfriend who wasn’t particularly happy with me. He also shared Coach’s propensity for yelling at refs when he didn’t agree with calls. Perhaps you can say I was never comfortable with conflict – maybe I can even blame being a child of an alcoholic for making me that way. Regardless, shortly after that game, I pulled off my stripes and decided waitressing might be a better money maker for me than officiating.
But now? It’s time to move on. Go Huskies. If I were really generous I’d look at a TV guide to see when they are playing this weekend. But no way. Just saying.