Mrs. Anderson told us it would happen. We didn’t believe her…until it did. We looked at the schedule for the upcoming volleyball season. We all had an idea of who the good teams were. The bigger schools. The ones with bigger gyms. Stronger records. But the most dangerous would not be the tough teams she said. Those we had practiced for. Trained for. Hours of jumping and diving. No, the ones we had to be careful of, watch out for, were those we underestimated. We listened, but really paid more attention to the stripes on our Nike sneakers.
We were confident getting off the bus. Being from a small town, it was something to go to an even smaller town. A smaller school. We walked a little taller. Laughing as we changed into our uniforms. Coasting through our warm-ups. We fell behind immediately. Nothing to worry about. We were stronger. Better even. Anyone could see it. Couldn’t they? And it wasn’t a Disney story…no David and Goliath…no this small team was not rising above their capabilities. We had sunk to theirs. Below even. They were horrible, but we were worse. And there it was. Proof. We lost. We believed her. The real opponent would always be ourselves.
I, we, were lucky, to have such a coach — an example of how to do better. To rise up. I was even luckier to have such a mother. In a league of her own, really. She taught me daily. Now the “visiting teams” around us might not have seen, at first, but she gave me everything. By beautiful example, she showed me how to be kind. Loving. Forgiving. She raised my game. She raises it, even today. I can be better. I want to be better. She told me we could always go higher. No matter what, we could, we would, rise above.
I haven’t played volleyball in years. But each day, I pass by my mother’s t-shirt — the one she bought in Chicago. Oh what fun we had together! What challenges we surpassed to get to that joy. Rising above and beyond! Skipping up and down the Miracle Mile! What a team we were! She was indeed the Ivy league! I want that. I want to be in her league — today and every day — I better bring my best game!