I spent two weeks glued to the television in August, watching Misty May- Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings win their third gold medal at the London Olympics. Though I didn't have the desire or the athleticism in my younger days, I've since changed my perspective and my drive. Now I seek to be strong and competitive, if only to keep active as much as possible.
Being 6 feet tall, people assume that I've played in the past. This perception worked out well for me when I stepped into a work meeting at the end of August and met Michael Loschke, who asked if I play.
"No, but I'd like to," I said
He then invited me to come out to where he and a regular group meet at Beyer High School every Sunday afternoon to play sand, or "beach," volleyball.
Excuse me, did you say that there's a sand volleyball court at Beyer?
"Actually, there are two," he said.
I've lived in Modesto my entire life and never heard of this, traveling instead to Ripon whenever I heard of a pick-up game.
It took me a couple of weeks to join them since I'd been nursing a back injury, but I finally went to see for myself. That first afternoon was one of the highlights of my summer. Those that were gathered in the shade trees around the court were very friendly to this newcomer, especially since the person who invited me had yet to show.
One man, Daniel Valencia, noticed that I forgot to bring a chair, so retrieved an extra one from the shed and set it out for me. This was just the beginning of the kindness that I encountered, as the players were very patient with my novice skills and coached me to practically becoming an asset to the team. We played three- on-three, so there was not much room to be shy or lazy.
Lacey Crowell, one of the regulars, hooked up an iPod to speakers so that we played to music, which only added to the festiveness of the outdoor sport. I remember thinking, "This really is one of the best-kept secrets in town." All around us there was activity: teams playing baseball in the fields, kids on skateboards at the skate park, and families with little ones running all over the playground.
Thank goodness for the shade trees because the sand gets extremely hot. Lacey's husband, Kevin, was great about hosing down the sand after every couple of games to make the surface bearable for our burning feet.
It came out in conversation that a lot of the players have been out every Sunday from March through November for more than 15 years, and that they are mainly responsible for keeping the sand clean and raked. One of the players has even come out on his Bobcat more than once to turn the top 10 inches of sand and keep it fresh. I was impressed with this dedicated group.
That first time I'd underestimated the heat and didn't wear the right clothes or bring enough food or water, but I've since fixed that. Sunglasses are also a necessity.
Bill from Turlock comes to set up at 11 a.m., but the games don't start until 1 p.m.
The court is not a secret. They are always looking for more people to come out and enjoy playing or watching. Consider this your invitation and bring friends!
LaBarbera works in the public affairs office of the Yosemite Community College District. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.