In April of 2010, author Tim Forbes embarked on a one-year “sports walkabout” that took him across the country to 100 sporting events involving 50 completely different sports. Why? Well, it’s complicated. His journey and ultimate discoveries about the true value of sports were published in the book “It’s Game Time Somewhere” (Bascom Hill Publishing, 2013).
California, as you may know, is a big state. Many Californians, in fact, think it’s ungovernable as a single entity; it’s just too vast a geographic area, with too diverse a population and economy base.
With that in mind, it was a display of positively Solomon-esque wisdom when the governing body of high school sports in the Golden State, the California Interscholastic Federation, created ten regional Sections, each independent of the others, and each comprising a territory that’s more or less the equivalent of a separate state. Which makes, for many high school athletes, a Section Championship the pinnacle of success. See how that works?
And thus was I able to employ the basic sports fan algorithm, “Championship = Drama,” to talk The Bird into accompanying me on a 45-minute pilgrimage to Cypress College, the site of the CIF Southern Section Boys Volleyball Championships.
From a pure viewing perspective, especially if you are a partisan fan, I propose that there is no better sport than volleyball. I offer as evidence the relative time spans that elapse between “fan outburst moments” in most spectator sports.
In baseball, soccer, and hockey, for example, there are often lengthy periods of time between occurrences that evoke almost involuntary expressions of either momentary joy or disappointment. In football, the potential exists on almost every snap…but often there are interminable dead spots in between those snaps. As is the case with basketball and its foul shots, time-outs, and various other stoppages in play.
At a volleyball match though, if you look away for a moment there’s a better than even chance you’ll miss seeing something fairly remarkable. So volleyball fans don’t. They’re engaged throughout, which creates a fast-paced, fun environment. And with a championship on the line, a volleyball match is pretty much a consistent rolling wave of crowd roars.
We arrived on campus just as the Division 4 Championship game was beginning, and those roars from could be heard loud and clear while walking across the quad from the parking lot. Entering the building was like walking into a vortex of sound. It was a wonderful reminder of just how loud a small gym can get.
Once settled into our old-school wooden bleacher seats, it was easy to get right into rooting mode, for one of the Division 4 finalists was South Torrance High. And while I don’t track these things closely, my crack inductive reasoning tells me that since the school is located next door to the plaza where we do our grocery shopping, I’m pretty sure that if we had kids, they would attend South. So “our” local school was in the championship game. Better yet, they were healthy underdogs to El Segundo, the team that had beaten them twice that season. Enough potential drama? Well add another layer of passion to the atmosphere, because neither team had ever won a CIF Section Volleyball Championship. I could feel butterflies as the action began to unfold; then again, I care deeply whether or not the animated catsup bottle wins the condiments race on the Angels Stadium scoreboard.
The El Segundo team and its following was straight out of central casting for Friday Night Lights—big-hearted working-class types with hearts worn on their sleeves. The coaches wore jeans, sneakers, and ball caps, looking every bit as is they’d come directly from their shift with the volunteer fire department. There was even a requisite contingent of the town Tough Guys, on hand because one of their own was on the team now playing for that coveted first title. In sum, you couldn’t help but love these guys. Unless they were playing against you. Then, of course, they were a bunch of thugs.
Torrance South clearly over-achieved early on, barely losing the first game and pulling ahead at one point in the second. Drunk on momentary success, the South fans started up the dreaded “O-ver-RAT-ed” chant. Sitting near the El Segundo bench as we were, I just knew that this cheering decision was going to end badly for them. And sure enough, it went on to define the high water mark in South’s pursuit of a title. El Segundo started clicking on all of the cylinders that had propelled them to their evidently “CORRECT-ly-RAT-ed” #1 status, and dispatched South in three straight games to claim the championship.
The post-game celebration was the sweet province of a first-time winner. Enveloped in the pure joy of their accomplishment, nobody wanted to leave the court—not after the award ceremony, not even after the mosh-pit celebration with their fans. There’s nothing in sports quite like a good post-Huge Win milling about.
We heading out for a quick bite before the Division 1 Championship game, and in so doing were treated to the finishing touches on the whole Friday Night Lights scenario when we were passed by a ragged convertible full of the victorious El Segundo players—still in uniform, and with at least one player smoking a cigarette. I can’t be sure, but I think I saw Dillon High School fullback Tim Riggins riding shotgun.