The Secret Life of Student-Athletes, Part 4

This, my friends, is the final installment! If you missed Parts 1-3, click here and here.  Oh, and here.


Anyone who has watched March Madness on TV has seen the super-slick clips they put together with players from top-seeded teams staring at the camera with a steely gaze, spinning basketballs on their fingers without even looking at them, dribbling the ball between their legs in slow-motion and then at normal speed, etcetera.  To make the clips even more awesome, they are always set to ultra-dramatic orchestral scores like Lux Aeterna or “Dawn” from Thus Spake Zarathustra.  Polished film segments of high-caliber athletes set to epic soundtracks always make for an enjoyable viewing experience, but how often do viewers actually consider how incredibly awkward it is to film these segments?

Lucky for the student-athletes at our school, our PR/media department was inspired by videos made by the Louisville men’s basketball team, and they decided that our sports teams were going to film similar clips to show before every home game.  So, one day last spring I found myself standing in front of a green screen with three of my teammates, all of us trying to stare unblinkingly and unsmilingly at a camera lens while the videographer adjusted the focus and the lighting guy adjusted his equipment to make us look super shiny and the PR woman hit us with a barrage of directions:

“Show me some swagger, girls! Don’t be afraid to show some attitude. Stare at the camera…hold it… Ok now maybe spin the ball around in your hands, just play with it, you know, toss it from hand to hand.  Maybe bounce it a few times?  Good, good, perfect! Hold it just a little longer… Ok we’ve almost got it, maybe let’s just try one more… Do you need some more time? To stop laughing? Just pretend we’re not here.  Ok maybe just a few more takes…”

It was strikingly similar to America’s Next Top Model, just without Tyra Banks and the aspiring models.  And the direction we heard most frequently was “Are you girls ready now?” because we physically could not stop laughing long enough for them to begin recording.  So much for being consummate professionals… But seriously, try staring at a camera and holding an intimidating facial expression in complete silence for 30 seconds when you’re not even sure what expression your face is actually producing (what if it’s less like a stare-down and more like a constipated grimace?) and you are standing between three of your closest friends and can feel them all trembling violently from suppressed laughter.  I would argue that if anyone in such a situation is able to refrain from even chuckling, it is because that person is an undercover robot, who also probably aspires to be America’s Next Top Model.

SA 9

Our best game face attempts…


These scenes are just a glimpse of the escapades that have taken place on my team and within our athletic department.  Some days our locker room was filled with a cacophony of exclamations like “Why have we played country music in here EVERY DAY this week??” and (from the bathroom) “Guys, I finally pooped!”  (This one was usually followed by whoops and cheers and congratulatory handshakes.) Other days would find me in the training room ice bath with a teammate discussing such topics as whether true altruism can and/or does exist.  There were moments of unbelievable heartache, like when we found out a teammate had sustained too many injuries to continue playing the sport she loves.  And there were moments of hysterical laughter, such as when the entire men’s basketball team showed up to one of our matches wearing Depends.  These behind-the-scenes stories tell so much about the athletes, more than any highlights reel or post-game-write-up ever can.  So while the price of being a student-athlete has undoubtedly been more than I bargained for, I have a wealth of memories to show for it.

Thanks for reading!  Comment below with your favorite moments from this four-part series – I’d love to hear your thoughts.



The Secret Life of Student-Athletes, Part 3

For Parts 1 and 2, click here and here.

Fall of my junior year turned out to be a terribly chaotic period, because our institution had been chosen to host one of the Presidential Debates.  At the crux of the chaos was the fact that our athletics and recreation building had been pegged as the site of the televised debate.  So while the university administration worked on problems like designing logos to advertise the event and implementing unbelievably complex security measures, all of the varsity teams housed in the building worked on completely emptying the locker rooms so that they could be occupied by the Secret Service.

For my team, the process took days: we lugged out picture frames, dry erase markers, trophies, plaques, plastic utensils, an electric guitar, clothes, shoes, kneepads, furniture, the TV, shampoo, razors, Post-It Big Pads, magnets, glittery scrunchies and leotards, craft supplies, a fake potted tree, laundry bags, magazines, foam rollers, powdered Gatorade mix, and food, all the time wondering how the HECK did some of this stuff get in here in the first place??  All of my volleyball clothes and equipment ended up in a pile on the middle of my bedroom floor for the month of October, and I would dive into it every morning hoping to emerge with the correct combination of shirt, spandex, socks, kneepads, and shoes I would need for practice that day.

But the inconvenience of losing locker room access paled in comparison to the loss of our gym space for those 2-3 weeks leading up to the debate while we were in the middle of our season and practicing 2-3 hours every day.  Our coaching staff worked tirelessly to find us adequate gym space off-campus (which happened to be about 30 minutes away) and also to obtain bus transportation for the 15 players.  On the rides to and from the off-campus facility we would entertain ourselves by watching Family Guy clips on YouTube and by telling each other horrific anti-jokes (i.e. “How do you get a clown to stop smiling? … You throw an axe at his face.”)

Playing a varsity sport often entails missing out on the big events on campus, and the Presidential Debate was no exception.  When the much-anticipated day finally came, my team was on a charter bus driving from San Francisco International Airport to San Jose State University for a pre-game-day practice.  Thus, we were unable to take part in the rollicking celebration dubbed “DebateFest” that was created for the 10,850 out of 11,000 students who did not win lottery tickets to attend the actual debate – although, after seeing the Facebook pictures of the Lumineers’ performance and the pop art paintings of the candidates and the feminist activist wandering through the crowd wearing a vagina costume, I almost feel like I was there.

We did, however, manage to participate in at least one of the university-sponsored events: the Moment in Time photo collection.  Someone in administration or perhaps the marketing department had the brilliant idea to ask students, alums, and employees to submit pictures of themselves at the moment the debate began; pictures deemed worthy for display would be included in a slideshow on the official university website dedicated to all things debate.

I was determined to secure our team’s involvement with the historic occasion in some capacity, so I factored in the time difference between the two states and whipped out my phone when the hour of the debate arrived.  Everyone on the team leaned out into the bus aisle, all sporting stylish grey practice t-shirts and grey sweats, and we snapped a few horrible quality pics as the late afternoon sun poured through the windows and the swaying of the bus made it difficult to hold my phone still.  I sent them off to the designated Moment in Time email address, and lo and behold a week later I found the final slideshow and was thrilled to discover that one of our glared and blurry photos had made the cut.


The selected photograph

This was to be the only successful debate experience our team had.  On our last pre-debate trip out of the locker room, one of my teammates had lagged behind to leave a heartfelt message on our whiteboard for whoever would be occupying the room in our absence.  It read: “Romney and/or Obama: please leave us autographs!! Love, The Volleyball Team.”  When we finally returned from our month-long exile, we looked at the board with high hopes.  There, underneath our request, a single word had been scrawled: “HAHA.”

Tune in next week for the fourth and final installment!



The Exploding Finger Incident

The time has come for this tale to be told.  To the faint of heart, proceed with caution…

It was late October of last year, and my volleyball team was at the University of Texas at Arlington for a regular season match against the Mavericks.  We had spent the previous day practicing and also running through the halls of the College Park Center arena trying to catch Flo Rida when he arrived to prepare for his less-than-capacity concert that night. But that is another story…

On game day, the match got off to a rough start, with us dropping a close first set. But about halfway through the second, we were neck-in-neck and gradually playing stronger.  I was playing at the right front position and enjoying our building momentum.  During one of the rallies, the ball was set to the Mavs’ outside hitter, so I jumped and pressed my hands over the net to block her hit.  Through some strange combination of luck and skill, she managed to hit the ball so that it only made contact with the small finger of my right hand before flying out of bounds.

As soon as I landed I clutched my whole hand tightly, overwhelmed by the shearing pain.  I was pretty sure I had badly jammed my finger – a common occurrence for front row players – and just hoped the pain would die down quickly so I could keep playing.  I made eye contact with my concerned teammates and giggled nervously so they wouldn’t be worried, then we all laughed it off and returned to our spots to receive the next serve.  I let go of my pulsing hand and shook it out, then glanced down just to check out how swollen my finger was.  It was then that I noticed the blood trailing down my wrist and arm and followed it back to my pinky finger, where I found that it was not only swollen but also out of alignment and split open to the bone at the middle joint.

Initial internal reaction: Ew ew ew AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!

Initial external reaction: I actually hardly remember this because I think I went into shock, but I rely on the trustworthy statements of my teammates.  I looked straight at my head coach and began to walk off the court as everyone stared at me in confusion; then I broke the silence with a rather inappropriate word…(sorry everyone).  As this is rare coming from me, it served as a signal to my coach that perhaps something was wrong.  He calmly turned to the referee: “Um, can we get a time-out?”

My teammates tell me that I quickly walked over to the bench just repeating, “Help. I need help. Help me,” over and over as my trainer tried to make me let go of my bleeding hand.  After I sat down, a concerned teammate tried to pour some water into my mouth from a paper cup, but at this point I was crying and gasping and ended up pretty much spewing the water back on her…(again, I’m sorry).  I also kept hysterically apologizing for crying, but our setter patted me on the back and told me it was perfectly okay, as she craned her neck to catch a glimpse of my mutilated digit.

I don’t remember what happened the rest of the set, but we did win, and my teammates sympathetically wished me well before running off to the locker room for the break.  One of my assistant coaches left me with these comforting words: “Don’t worry Cass, you’re gonna be fine – the same exact thing happened to me when I tried to block Logan Tom.”  Logan Tom is the starting outside hitter for the US Women’s National Team.  I remember thinking that if Logan Tom had exploded my finger, I probably wouldn’t be that upset…

A UTA student trainer took me to the emergency room, where I was placed in a room with a TV that was stuck on a channel playing one of the Law and Order shows.  The trainer sat with me and gave me updates on the ongoing match as nurses came in to clean my finger, numb it up, put the dislocated joint back in place, stitch the torn skin back together, and stabilize it with an unnecessarily large splint.  I stared at the TV, the wall, my kneepads and spandex (which I was still wearing, along with my uniform), anything to keep me from seeing my finger, and I grinned when the trainer gave me the final outcome of the match: DU takes the win.

My two assistant coaches met me at the ER with a change of clothes and rushed me to the airport in time to catch our flight back to Denver.  As I walked through security to our gate, my teammates cheered for me like I was a soldier returning from war.  That’s when I realized that although my finger had been dislocated in a most unlucky incident (and not even by a famous person), knowing those girls still made me one of the luckiest people alive 🙂

(Originally posted 3/13/13)