Keith Stewart wanted to support his niece, little did he know he would become a line judge and learn a valuable lesson about family.
Last week, I attended my niece’s high school volleyball game. She is a senior this year, and I try to attend as many games as possible. I am always surprised at the force and ferocity those sweet-faced girls hit the ball. The games are basically slug fests, and the team who crams the ball down the other team’s throat the most wins. It’s exhilarating!
So there I am, minding my own business, sitting on the bleachers in the Leslie County High School gymnasium—honestly, when is someone going to invent a better bleacher? One that doesn’t leave your rump numb for two hours after sitting on it for half an hour.
Suddenly my niece’s coach is motioning me to come down to the floor. Never good at deciphering signals, I act like I know what her wave means. I laugh, smile, nod my head, and point at my shirt then rub my belly, like I am responding to a baseball coach giving me orders from beside third base. I don’t know why I think rubbing my belly is an appropriate response, but it is all I have to offer. The lady sitting beside me finally says, “I think she wants you to come down there.” I stop my insane hand gestures, and awkwardly walk down to the gym floor.
In high school volleyball, there are two official judges/umpires/referees who are trained, impartial, and paid to call the game. There are also two line judges that the home team provides. These people stand on the court during the game and watch where the ball hits the floor and call it either in or out. Until that night, I always assumed the line judges needed to be responsible members of the sports community. After the coach asks to me to serve as one, I realize they just get anyone off the street to do it. “All you have to do is raise the flag up if the ball is out, and lower your flag down if the ball is in,” I’m told.
“Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy,” I reply, ignoring the worried looks the coaches and other officials have plastered to their faces.
As I walk out on to the court and look up at all the spectators, I immediately become self-conscious. I know these people have come to watch a volleyball game, but in my mind, suddenly they are all here to watch me call the lines.
My internal conversation with myself as the girls warm up:
“I wish I had shaved this morning. I don’t know why I don’t just suck it up and shave every day.”
“Really? You don’t remember you vowed to never again shave daily once you left corporate work?”
“I do, I just don’t like having all these people look at me with my salt and pepper whiskers. On some men, it looks good. On me, it just looks wino-ish.”
“Well, it’s too late now. Suck it up, Bucko.” (I can be so hard on myself.)
I snap back to reality when a volleyball hits my leg. Some girl from the opposing team smiles and runs over to grab it. I then begin to wonder how much power I have in this position:
“If someone hits me on purpose with the ball, can I throw them out?”
“If I think someone has a bad attitude, can I give them some sort of penalty?”
“Do I have the power to just end the game if I want to do it?”
As the game starts, I am trying to pay close attention, but the glaring eyes of the fifty or so spectators staring at me begin wearing me down. Suddenly, I begin to panic, considering all the bad things that could happen in this game:
“What if my nose itches and I raise my arm up to scratch it and everyone thinks I am calling the ball out when the ball isn’t even on my side of the court?
“Worse yet, what if people don’t see me scratch my nose, but think, instead, I am standing there just picking it?”
After the first set, I am over this judging. My concentration falters, my mind begins to wonder, and my feet begin to hurt. I start having more random thoughts and conversations with myself:
“I am really tired just standing here. They should provide us a chair.”
“My feet are hurting.”
“Dude, you need to get in shape if you are hurting from just standing.”
“Although I must say, I AM having to stand with proper posture AND having to suck in my gut because all of these people are watching me. Plus, this floor has no give. If not chairs, they should give the line judges anti-fatigue mats to stand on.”
Finally, I have lost all control of my thoughts and of any close calls happening on my side of the court:
“I should have eaten dinner before coming tonight. I am starving.”
“I wonder what time I will get home? Will it be too late to cook something? Should I stop somewhere before I go home? Maybe run through a drive-thru? A Dairy Queen Blizzard would be good, but I can’t have that for dinner.”
“I know I still have half a package of tofu in the refrigerator at home. How old is it? Does tofu go bad?”
At that point, a volleyball goes whizzing by head, barely missing me. I look up to see it was hit by my niece who was serving from the other side of the court. I can’t be sure, but I think she knew I wasn’t paying attention and was aiming for me. I gave her the stink eye, and held my flag straight up. “Out!” I said with a flourish, making my authority known for one, sad brief moment in time.
I wanted to scream, “Not in my house!” but I didn’t. I just kept standing there, but was a little more alert for the rest of the match.
The love of family can make you do things you never even considered doing. I had no business on a volleyball court in any official capacity, yet there I was, holding in my gut for 5 grueling sets all for my niece. Although I am sure they will never ask me again to help, I am glad I was there to be a part of her high school experience for at least one night.
Photo: Flickr/ 黒忍者