This past weekend, I got to tag along with the Ball State women's volleyball team as it traveled to Western and Eastern Michigan.
I was sworn to secrecy, so I can't tell what exactly happened on the bus and whatnot, but if you have traveled with an athletic team before, you probably have a pretty good idea of what happened.
There was a little immaturity, some general craziness, and a lot of sleep. And I'm just mentioning how the coaching staff acted. It was basic, fun bus behavior.
None of that surprised me.
What did surprise me was the family atmosphere amongst the volleyball team.
Now, some readers are probably thinking to themselves, "What is Cole talking about? Teams are often referred to as families. A certain special bond is forged with the people you play with that is above and beyond friendship." Never let it be said that I don't have smart readers.
I've been around my fair share of sports teams and I know of the "bond" that is formed that turns a group of athletes into something more than mere pals. I've seen that before and it was certainly present between the players on the Ball State squad. Those girls really seem to love each other and the staff appears to have a genuine affection for them as well.
What I'm talking about was a different sort of family than is normally associated with sports because it actually involved the players' real families.
Whenever there is a women's volleyball match in Worthen Arena, a lot of the Cardinal players go into the stands afterwards to talk to their families. This never really stood out to me because I know that many of the players are from Muncie or somewhere nearby. I did not realize that trend continued on the road.
After Friday night's victory over Western Michigan, the whole team was invited to middle attacker Melissa Oliver's house, which was nearby, to eat. I thought that was a pretty big deal considering the "team" that evening was about 20 people with all the coaches, trainers, support staff, bus driver and myself. That's a large group to feed.
When we got there, I saw that it was not only Melissa's family that was there. Two or three of the other players had family there. Quickly I realized that these parents not only knew their daughters, but also the other players on the team and the coaches. It was like being a fly on the wall at a big family reunion, except without the beer or the badminton.
The girls ate and laughed, while the parents caught up with others and talked about how successful the season has been so far. Most of them seemed to go to the next day's match as well.
So where am I going with all this? Somewhere around here.
The Ball State women's volleyball team is currently at the top of the Mid-American Conference this season and has a very well respected program. Maybe we need to encourage some of our other athletic programs to spend more time with their players' families.
Write to Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org