Nov 11, 2008

The Spirit of SDA

This year's volleyball team, every bit a team of champions, even with a third place trophy. The starting team is every other boy in the back row, "Micronesian Queen in the red kneeling, "Y" (also referred to on this blog as "Koala") holding the volleyball, and "J" the last girl kneeling on the right. The team is flanked by two of the best vollyeball coaches around, Nicole on the left and Angie on the right.

This past Friday, our high school volleyball team—mostly made up of last year’s champion middle school squad—took third place in the Coalition of Private Schools Sports Association high school volleyball tournament. It was another storybook season for the team: ranked fifth out of seven, the team bested the fourth ranked team to enter the semifinals, lost to undefeated Grace Christian Academy, and then upset number two ranked Marianas Baptist Academy to claim the third place trophy. Now some might sniff at the shortest trophy on the stand—after all, it’s not first place. But consider that, the starting team consisted of five freshman and one sophomore, with a trio of 7th and 8th graders and one 10th grader new to the game warming the bench. These kids managed to defeat teams made up largely of high school juniors and seniors—players much closer to adults than kids. The teams they played and won against were taller, stronger, heavier, and often more powerful than they. Watching these kids pull out those crucial and hard-fought victories, I felt this third place meant as much or more than the championship we won last year. Last year, our players did win against higher-ranked teams, but at least the players were basically the same age—the playing field was level. This year we placed where we did against the odds.

So how did they do it? A couple of key factors:

Powerful things come in small packages. We’re a small school, so we usually field small teams. True, they often have to work harder than the kids from the big schools, but they get to spent a lot more time on the court and a lot less time looking on from the sidelines while “starters” have all the fun. The small size of winning SDA teams tends make them extraordinarily cohesive as well. They learn to function fluidly and intuitively as a team—they learn to rely on each other, because more often than not there’s not much more help to be had waiting on the SDA bench. Even some of our star players seem to be small in actual stature. I can think of more than one SDA MVP in volleyball and basketball that was a head shorter than most of his competition but who seemed to have a springs in his legs and fierce fire in his heart. What we lack in size we make up for in speed, flexibility, teamwork, and heart. That’s the Spirit of SDA.

The team and the trophy might be small, but their spirit is huge!

Speaking of heart—these players have it in spades. They were willing, in the end, to lay it all on the line. To give everything. They decided to risk the burning shame of leaping to block a spike from an 18 year old senior and having it smashed down in their faces. They decided not to pretend like they didn’t care to avoid the hurt of caring a lot and then losing. They decided to fight back rather than give up when the other team started to pull ahead. They put their hearts out there and held nothing back. If, as the Buddhists say, desire is the cause of suffering, then they were willing to risk the suffering. They simply wanted it more. That’s the Spirit of SDA.

Heart: Personified by this young man, "Ko." After a season of difficulty at putting his whole heart into the game, he demonstrated a remarkable and moving turnaround in attitude during the tournament, finally matching a "can-do" spirit with his considerable skill.

But we mustn’t give short shrift to skill either. These players have a natural athleticism that belies their age. They will only get better as they get older. Despite being champions last season, this was not the same team that brought home first place last November. This team is ten times better. Whether, it’s setting up for a killer spike, sizzling serves, or our specialty, the miracle save in three hits from far outside the court boundaries, our kids do it all. They bring their best, and only their best to game day. That’s the Spirit of SDA.

"Ko" in the blue SDA shirt, nominated for the second year in a row, as MVP for his team.

It’s more than natural talent though. Talent requires development and that requires skilled and knowledgeable coaches—and our team had that in Nicole French and Angie Perez. These women knew their business and they didn’t mess around. They pushed and challenged the team. Their expectations were sky high. But more than that, they had the personal skill and the experience to actually teach these kids new skills. Nicole and Angie helped the team as a whole raise their level of play. This season the team needed more than motivational cheerleading (such as I could provide)—they needed Professionals. And wouldn’t you just know it that this year’s teachers just happen to be a crack squad of Professionals—serious, focused, grown-up, ready to work and ready to win. That’s the Spirit of SDA.

One more key to this year’s remarkable season—while the kids honed their skills and played with their hearts they never lost their trademark high spirits. They could be serious and still crack a quick and genuine grin. They could want the win, but deal with a loss without losing heart or perspective. They treated their competition with easy-going grace. While they might be prone to throwing their weight around back at school, on the court they epitomized humility and good sportsmanship. Perhaps more than anything, this is what we aspire to—what we want to be the essence of the Spirit of SDA.

It was a fun season, and I’m very proud of my students and all they accomplished. If they can take the Spirit of SDA—teamwork, talent, a teachable spirit, heart, and graceful spirit--and apply it outside the volleyball court, they will find there are many, more important, victories in life to be had.

Our team with the Sportsmanship Award. We were honored that the other schools in the league felt we worthy of this award.


Whimsy Peddler said...

I'm so proud of them! Victorious once again! Tell them Ms. Judith says, "Great Job!"

Vero in Saipan said...


G-rant said...

Thanks for posting pics of v-ball. I miss those kids, and I miss you. Hope daddyhood is still amazing for ya. Take care