The Bucek girls played volleyball.

My sister Wendy played all 4 years in high school. She was team captain. My sister Judy played all 4 years in high school. She wasn’t a captain; one of her team mates played Vball in the junior Olympics, and so naturally she was chosen as leader.

I had always been athletic. I played a zillion years of town sponsored softball, rode my bike everywhere, and was a fair track & field competitor. So when I entered into my freshman year at good old LHS, I tried out for the volleyball team. It was almost a given I was going to be on the team. Coach Springer knew that I came from good volleyball stock, and she knew that I had attended Battag’s Volleyball Day Camp for 2 weeks over the summer.

Oh, that day camp. It was 10 days of pure torture. From 9 am to 4 pm you did nothing but drills and serves and dives and jumps and spikes – with an hour for lunch where you ate your warm sandwich and soda and then stared at the wall for 45 minutes. By the time I got home I would crawl up to my room, flop on my bed and pass out until morning. It took me 3 days before my body stopped being one giant sore muscle. But, it did hone my skills, which gave me an advantage over the other girls who just strolled into the gym during the week of try-outs.

I made the JV team and was after a time named captain. This thrilled not only me, but my parents as well. I was following the fine tradition of Bucek women who commanded the court and net. I loved that I was on a team. I loved my polyester mesh jersey and my maroon knee pads. I was ready to start my career as an LHS athlete.

And now for the plot change so typical of Tracy.

Most of the other girls on the team were of the “popular” set. They wanted little to do with me, and offered me no support. If they missed a shot during a game, they were given a “good try” and a high five. If I missed a shot, I was greeted with a “COME ON!” and a scornful glare. When I was good, it was ignored or just accepted. But as the season dragged on, the animosity I felt and the realization that I was a total outcast began to affect my game.

There are those great athletes who don’t let pressure get in their way. Look at little Kerri Strug – the American gymnast from the 1996 Olympics. She had hurt her ankle, but still needed to deliver a stellar vault to win gold for the US team. Had that been me, the American team would’ve had to settle for silver, and I’d be shamefully riding home in the back of the bus.

By mid season I wasn’t even starting anymore. I couldn’t bump to save my life, and every spiked ball landed in the net. I could barely get a serve in bounds. Those girls had totally psyched me out. But in time, with the pressure of playing gone, I began to improve during practice, and coach put me back in. I finished the season a decent player, and was glad to get away from the daily interaction with my heartless, bitchy team mates.

My sophomore year I played again, and got a repeat performance of my first year. I started out great – was team captain again – but after weeks of knowing I was totally on my own on a team of ten, I began to crumble and play like shit. This time, coach actually rescinded my captain’s title, which just about destroyed my ego. The bench and I got well acquainted and outside of practice my knee pads and my ankles were inseparable.

The summer between Sophomore and Junior year, the rest of the JV team went to a sleep away volleyball camp up in Massachusetts. We were preparing to enter the varsity level, and needed to know more complicated offensive set ups and what not. My parents could not afford to send me. They had 2 kids in college at the time, and a high falutin’ sports camp wasn’t in the budget. Part of me didn’t care – I didn’t relish the idea of spending a week with that crowd anyway.

start here and move there. now start there and move here. no, not there, THERE!

So I stroll into try-outs/practice a week or so before school starts and find out I am going to be a setter rather than a hitter. Ok – pressure off a bit. However, the setter is a key position in many of these fancy player set ups – you need to run all around the court and not be off sides and blah blah blah. These girls had been drilled day in an day out for a week and knew this shit forwards and backwards. I was just getting my feet wet.

It might have been around the 3rd day of practice when while trying unsuccessfully to find my proper position in a 5-1 offense rotation while having to stomach countless eye rolls and groans that it happened. Mary, a very pale, moon-faced and utterly popular team mate of mine put her hands on her bony hips and said, “Springer, if she can’t get this by now I don’t see any reason to have her on the team.”

Enter the camel with one too many straws on it’s back.

I said, “that’s it,” pushed down my knee pads, and headed for the locker room to get my stuff. Coach Springer was right behind me, and I told her through tears and a shaky voice that I quit. I was done. I could not endure another season of volleyball with those witches. She tried to talk me out of it, but I was not to be consoled or coaxed. I was done.

My parent’s weren’t happy either. I remember it got to the point where I really had to sit my mother down, look her in the eye and say “I hate playing with those girls. I HAVE NO FUN. NONE.” That’s when she got it.

For the next two years I couldn’t stand volleyball season. I hated seeing those twats walk around school on game day in their jerseys. And with the exception of one season of winter track, I didn’t play another sport in high school. I knew that it would just be more of the same. All the “cool girls” played sports and I was never, ever to be admitted into that circle.

I still played though. In college I would play intramural sometimes, and after college I played for years and years with a group of folks at a local park. I even played in a few beach competitions down the Jersey Shore. But even then, I felt a real sense of shame every time I missed a shot – Some folks would treat me just as bad as those girls did…you know, the type who can’t lose at anything? It would be the end of the world if you missed a serve or a spike. But others, who were there to have fun and play a couple of good games, would smile and pat your back and say “shake it off.”

I just wish my high school team had been filled with a few more of the “shake it off” kind.