From time to time I like to take a moment and reflect on my past. As the London Olympics are upon us, like most families, my family and I watched the opening ceremonies and reminisced about Olympic memories. I have a particular connection that led to many of my personal choices in life and many of my connections. It started with a club at my high school. Back in 1988, we did not have a men's volleyball team. The swim coach at the time was Bruce Follensbee and he started a volleyball club for men. I doubt he was even paid for it. Interesting how his idea reshaped and molded so many of my decisions in life. I joined the volleyball club. It sounded fun. I was playing around on the beach and a few of my friends let me know about it, so why not? In 1988, an exhibition match between the world #1 and defending Olympic champion USA Men's Volleyball team was scheduled to play in Orlando vs. Brazil. It was originally scheduled to play at the Orlando Arena, but it was behind schedule (probably a project manager's fault!) The next biggest venue was the Orlando Civic Center, however, it too was booked up. In 1988, a brand new high school had opened up off of Turkey Lake Road in Orlando which bordered the neighborhood of Orange Tree where I grew up. Today, that high school, Dr. Phillips High School, is across the street from Universal Studios and is the high school of many stars such as entertainers Wayne Brady, Joey Fatone, DJ Khaled, Major League stars Johnny Damon, A.J. Pierzynski, Danny Miceli, movers and shakers in the industry like Joe Mulvihill and of course the project management author and speaker, me. The high school was brand new and has a 2,200 seat gymnasium. With little or no options left, the event coordinators moved the volleyball match to our gymnasium. I remember getting called out of first period by Coach Follensbee and being asked if I minded missing a day of school to shag balls as the US team practiced. We also were the ball boys for the actual match. I was ecstatic!
The men had won gold in 1984 by beating the Brazilians, however, they only had four returning players from that team. Of course it helps when the returning players are the likes of Karch Kiraly, Steve Timmons, and Craig Buck. As a sophomore in high school, I barely could comprehend what I was watching and the opportunity to watch world class athletes train. In 1988, I still had the whole world in front of me. I was dabbling in several sports. I played football, soccer, baseball, and volleyball. I was working, worried about girls, and all of the other normal things that young boys deal with. During the practice when we were shagging balls for the US team, some really intense guy with a huge flat top hair cut asked me to talk to him. I have to confess, I didn't know who the guy was. It turns out, it was Steve Timmons. Steve sat me down for five minutes and asked me what position I played in volleyball, how seriously I was taking the sport, and what my plans for the future were. I had no answers for the guy. We were a volleyball club. I barely even knew the positions. The next day was the actual match and the US destroyed Brazil winning in three straight games. I found an article about the match here. At the match, I really watched. I watched Steve and Karch. I watched Craig Buck and Eric Sato. That enthusiasm carried over into the 1988 Olympics where the US team won gold again. I have been hooked ever since. At that moment, I was a volleyball fan. I tried to play full time. My senior year of high school, we had our first team. We came in second in state and it was truly a fulfilling experience. I played with great guys like Grant Turner and Barry Sands. My best friend since 2nd grade Chris Crumpacker and of course the Famous one, Matt Amos, Joe Grindrod and James Lee rounded out the starting 6. I went to school at the University of Tennessee and got to play there as well. Even after college, volleyball was a connection that led to many friends and decisions. When I moved to Birmingham, AL, one of the first things that I did was join an area volleyball association. I met a few guys there and it turned in to one of the best summers of my life as we toured and played tournaments all over the southeast. There has been so much happiness in my life because of volleyball and so many things came from Steve taking the time to sit with me in that gym.
I left college early due to my father's illness. Right after he passed away, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next with my life. I was bartending at Bennigan's on International Drive in Orlando. One night, Steve Timmons walked in to the bar. I went over and bought him a round and told him what he had done that May evening in 1988. He had taken the time to spend with a kid and how many paths had converged because he had. He thanked me for coming over to talk to him and for the beer. The next night, Steve came back in. This time he was carrying a box of stuff. He had a bunch of Redsand gear. Redsand was his volleyball apparel company. He thanked me for taking the five minutes it took to let him know what a difference he had made to me. He told me that after he left, he had thought quite a bit about what I shared with him. It meant quite a bit to him and he wanted me to have some things from him. Another really cool moment.
All of these thoughts and memories were flooding back to me as we watched the opening of the Olympics. My daughter is getting old enough where I can share some of these stories with her. It is fascinating how some simple decisions can make profound impacts. Mr. Follensbee deciding to have a club. Me deciding to join it. Steve Timmons deciding to take 5 minutes to spend with me. Who knows how things turn out if these little things don't happen, but I am glad they did. You can bet that for all of the matches, indoor and outdoor, I am one of Team USA's biggest volleyball fans!
Go Team USA!