Nov 2, 2007
"Show Me Your Heart!"
In the end it came down to heart. That's what it took for the Saipan SDA School to finally bring home it's first volleyball championship ever.
This year's team had everything else all season long. They had skills. These kids were spiking, digging off the net, delivering blistering overhand serves--all on regular basis. These were skills I hadn't seen in any of our teams from previous years and I wasn't seeing in too many of the teams we were playing this season. They had a knowledgeable coach who was able to hone those skills and teach them new ones as well. This was not one of those years where the kids had little more than a glorified cheerleader "coaching" them (translate: Me!). Missy was about as close to professional as it got. They had a postive attitude. On the whole, our kids played with smiles on their faces. They had fun. If they lost, they didn't beat themselves up too much about it. After all it was just a game. The team reflected the unique spirit of the 8th grade class that anchored the team--relaxed, good-natured, always ready for a good time.
But as the regular season came to a close, with more wins than losses, there was still something missing. There were few hard fought games. In the games we won, we generally clobbered the opposition which were playing at a much lower skill level. The games we lost, were against teams that were at least as good as we were, and yet we couldn't seem to quite pull it together to bring home a win. We entered the championship series essentially having never lost a match to most of the teams, and having never won a match against the others. We were missing something. We were missing the will to win. We were missing heart. Teams of years past had the gift of heart. Theyhad scrabbled and sweated and fought for a third place berth, only to lose it, because they simply didn't have the skill. Now here was a team that had the skill--playing with their hands and with their heads came easily. All they needed now was to play with their hearts, and regardless of the outcome of the game they would honor their predecessors and walk off the court champions in the game that mattered most, the game of life.
On Tuesday, October 23 we won the first round handily--again, against a team we'd always beaten--and on Thursday we entered the semi-finals against Grace Christian Academy, the second ranked team in the league, a team we had never defeated. GCA, anchored by a lanky 8th grader approaching six feet tall with a fearsome spike, was a force to be reckoned with. To win against these worthy opponents, we would need that missing ingredient. I told the 8th grade members of the team as much during a brief pep talk after worship Thursday morning. I'd been thinking a lot about that beautiful speech Billy Bob Thorton gives in the great football film Friday Night Lights, and while my speech lacked both the haunting, meditative guitar solo playing in the background and the screenwriter's eloquence, the message was still the same. Play for each other. Give your all. Play with your heart.
And in the end that is exactly what they did. The games were hard fought, both teams putting every ounce of everything they had. There would be no blowouts, neither in the semi-finals where we finally beat GCA, or the following day when we defeated Whispering Palms--another upstart team from another tiny school (they had fought their way into the championships in an upset of the top-ranked team. The 1st and 2nd ranked teams would battle it out for third while SDA and Whispering Palms faced off in a "David vs. David" contest). In the regular season we'd always won against our friends at Whispering Palms, but we knew that players that defeated a team that had never lost a match all season had clearly metamorphosed into some serious competition. Sure enough, their team had gone from a whisper to a roar. All the games were close, there were rallys that seemed to stretch for minutes, there were miraculous saves. These games were a joy to watch. But when the dust settled that Friday afternoon, the SDA team were champions.
It was exciting to win the championship. Lots of parents and students came out to support the team--we were quite a sight, we fans, massed at the very brink of the sidelines, loyally shuffling to the other side of the court when the teams switched sides at the end of each game. One of our students, "Ko", won the league Most Valuable Player award. The newspapers and the local TV station were there snapping pictures and taking interviews. The trophy was large and golden and the weight of it felt good in the hands.
But my favorite memory of this dream season, wasn't basking in the glory of the final victory. My favorite moment was the previous day on Thursday, in the final moments of a very close third and final game vs GCA. Those last points were pure heart--the kids focused, tightly-knit, playing for each other, playing with all they had. And at the final serve, I cried "Show me your heaaaaaaaaart!" And they did. In the next moment the court erupted in joy as we realized we were going to the finals. That was the moment of true victory for me--it was a moment I'd experienced with other teams for whom I'd been every bit as proud. The only thing that made the difference this time was that the points happened to be in our favor.
I was raised with the idea that competition is a bad thing. And indeed there are many pitfalls to competitive sports. We've all heard stories about the lengths people will go to win, how ugly people can become over what is really just a game. In fact that movie I mentioned earlier,Friday Night Lights, paints a vivid picture of the costs to a community and to the atheletes themselves, of the obsession with winning. But, I believe there can be value to competition, provided that it's kept in perspective, provided that players, coaches, fans understand that it really is in how you play the game, not the winning or losing (which in a contest between two equally talented teams in many regards really does essentially come down to chance). Or rather the winning and losing comes in how you play the game, not in the numbers on the scoreboard at the end of the game.
In that sense, I can confidently and proudly say: We won.
"Whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do with all your might. . ."
Babs and I get our hands on the goods