Stories Of Americans Passionately At Play

"Sport, at its best, at its most human, is able to inspire an innocence and joy that is unique to each of us."
~ Richard Corman ~

From the IGTS Vault

The scoreboard gleams at USC's Galen Center


If College Volleyball Were Played In Your Living Room

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).

From a purely “live and die with my team” standpoint, it’s been a tough year. Who would have thought that the Angels posting a losing record and being eliminated from post-season play in roughly mid-June would have been the second worst thing to afflict my fan-dom in 2010?

I’m speaking of course of the trumped-up charges against the USC football program, and the egregious sanctions that followed. And the beginning of the, sigh, Kiffen years (note the avoidance of the word “era”, which otherwise signifies lengthiness). After back-to-back Trojan losses on opponent field goals that sailed through the uprights as time expired, I needed a little boost—some sort of pick-me-up.

I decided to go visit the trophies.

The Galen Center, tucked between the campus and the 110 freeway, has been the home of USC basketball and volleyball since it opened in 2006. It also serves as a museum of Trojan sports history, housing replicas of each championship trophy earned, along with commemorative team photos to mark each occasion.

“Big deal,” I hear you say. “Every college field house in America has that. What’s so unique about this one?” Well, two things.

National championship trophies line the walls inside USC's Galen CenterFirst, while other schools have trophy cases, USC has trophy rooms. Almost every square inch of wall space in the roomy main lobby of the Galen Center is lined with championship hardware.

Second…they don’t do conference championship displays. I’m sure they’ve got other rooms where Pac-8, -10 and -12 trophies are stacked like cordwood. But in the Galen Center lobby only national championship trophies are on display. Rows and rows and rows of them. It would take hours to cross-check them all, but I assume there’s one for each of the 113 national titles USC has won across 11 different sports.

Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this total trails the 127 national championships won by cross-town rival UCLA. But that’s not important right now.

What is important is that USC is currently tied at 113 with Stanford. The very same Stanford that currently occupies the #1 ranking in women’s volleyball. And the team that I have traveled to the Galen Center to watch as they take on the eighth-ranked USC Women of Troy. Did I mention that these are the same two teams that opened this facility almost four years ago to the date of my visit? Is this post not dripping with synergy?

Traffic around the Galen Center is a gigantic pain, and the parking situation is worthy of a case study on licensed larceny. But on the positive side, once I finally did get into the building, I found the ticket pricing structure to be quite attractive. As in…free. As in, “sit anywhere you want, with our compliments.” As in, plop down in any one of the thousands of cushioned chairs suitable for a Hollywood private screening room. No, I take that back—seating was limited to just the lower bowl, so you were forced to sit only in the best Barcaloungers-in-training.

And I didn't even have to call ahead to reserve this private row!

And I didn’t even have to call ahead to reserve this private row!

And this is a stunningly beautiful arena; one that looks like it opened just yesterday, with an inaugural “All You Can Eat Off The Floor” event. They even had an entire custom row, waiting just for me! I started to think that things might get ugly at the end of the evening when I refused to leave the building.

Despite the fact that the building seats 10,258 for basketball, I can’t imagine a more intimate setting. Every seat has a great sightline, and the angle of the rows is such that no matter where you are, you feel neither too far away nor too high above the action.

The HD scoreboard is state-of-the-art, made even more notable for how quickly it re-queued action for instant replay. Only a few seconds after the completion of a point on the court, you could see it played again on the big screen—often in slow motion and from a more compelling viewing angle.

Whatever information you didn’t get from the overhead scoreboard was presented on one of the ribbon scoreboards that occupied each corner of the arena. I am not overstating it when I say that I never had to move my head to go from live action, to replay, to that play’s impact on the score. If all sports were viewed at arenas like this, the neck muscles that enable humans to turn their heads would eventually atrophy.

The USC women's volleyball team huddles on the court at the beginning of a game against Stanford

The Women of Troy, fully ready to rumble.

When I think of dramatic introductions, women’s volleyball is not what normally leaps to mind. So if you had told me that they would dim the lights and spotlight the players as they were introduced with a basso profondo “let’s get ready to rumble” shtick, I would’ve prepared myself to be embarrassed for all concerned. But it worked.

“And now…yooooooorrrrrr…Southern Californiaaaaaaa…WOMEN OF TROY!” It was just bombastic enough to get the crowd going, but not so over the top that it became cartoonish. When each player was introduced and took the court, she tossed out a small foam souvenir volleyball—ostensibly to a random spot in the crowd. It was obvious though, that some had specific targets. Friends? Family? Future agents?

From what I’d seen so far, anything was possible in this building.

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