When I first committed to play Division I volleyball, I remember having a premonition that I didn’t really know what I was getting into – it wasn’t long before I found out I was right. But, I’m not just talking about the usual culture shocks that high school athletes encounter when they find themselves competing at the collegiate level: the two- and three-a-day preseason practices, the long travel days, the exponentially increased appetite that leaves one hungry even after 4-5 meals a day, and the feeling that one’s 18-year-old body has been stolen and replaced with that of a 50-year-old man with double knee replacements. No, nothing could have prepared me for behind-the-scenes shenanigans ranging from strip-teasing supporters to dealing with a presidential debate, from legendary injuries to painfully awkward photo shoots, all of which occurred in just one of the nation’s athletic departments.
During my first two years with the program, our fan base was pathetically small, consisting of local girl-scout troops, elementary school volleyball teams, family members, and the four faithful season ticketholders who had been coming to every game for more than a decade. We tried to guilt-trip our on-campus friends into coming, but most regular students come to the school to ski, so the campus would empty on the weekends as our potential fans hit the slopes. Then, a tongue-in-cheek conversation between one of the volleyball juniors and a member of the men’s swim team changed everything.
Alyssa and Andy were talking at a student-athlete leadership conference when Andy mentioned he’d always thought it would be fun for his swim team to show up to Alyssa’s volleyball games in Speedos. After the two laughed at the picture, Alyssa got serious: “Do it, Andy. I’m ordering you.” Spurred into action, Andy rallied the swimmers and then proceeded to take his initial idea to a whole new level. At our next home game, he and his teammates showed up wearing their team-issued sweatsuits and filed into the stands grinning obviously. Alyssa glowered at the absence of Speedos. But then, after we won our first point, Andy unzipped his jacket and tossed it into the air. And so it continued: every time we earned a point, one of the guys would lose a jacket, a shirt, a pair of pants, and so on until all of them stood in the bleachers sporting nothing but Speedos and giant smiles.
From that point on, the swimmers became legends. They would show up to our games wearing winter hats and mittens and scarves so they could have more items to strip off. During time-outs they would perform cheers and hold push-up contests, and their striptease routine would reveal Speedos of every color and design as our points racked up. The shocked reactions of visiting teams were priceless, and my team began to brag that we could easily pick any swimmer out of a butt line-up.
One night our match was a particularly close one, and the crowd began to notice that the swimmers were running out of clothing to remove. On one of the final points, the guys looked up the line and realized that everyone was already down to their Speedos. Andy, the fearless leader, felt all eyes on him and understood the sacrifice would have to be his. He shrugged, reached down, and whipped off the tiny spandex uniform. I heard gasps and stifled screams, and several parents covered their children’s eyes. But Andy just laughed – he had been wearing a nude Speedo under the first the entire time.
Tune in next week for Part II…