The Coaching Bag/Backpack/Satchel

In the next several months it will travel to Texas, Washington D.C., Florida, Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, and every county in North Carolina that lacks decent cell phone service.  It will be forgotten on team benches, left in hotel rooms and various convention centers, and abandoned on a bus after a 7-hour ride.  It will narrowly avoid coffee spills, be unceremoniously dropped into Gatorade puddles under the bench, and probably knock an iPad out of the hands of an unsuspecting mom standing between courts 184 and 185.

Oh, the stories my coaching backpack would be able to tell … if it could only talk.  Come to think of it, if it could talk I’d ask it where it put 84 clipboards, about $52.14 in loose change, and every favorite pen I’ve ever owned.

I might joke with my wife about her shoulder-strapped Bermuda Triangle, as she searches for a 20% off Bed Bath & Beyond coupon, spilling an assortment of restaurant mints, sunglasses and old Target receipts in front of an increasingly agitated line of shoppers who are resignedly looking for a register line without anyone holding a purse.  She doesn’t always see the humor in it, and luckily she doesn’t know that my coaching backpack is 10 times worse …

See, I put a lot of things in my coaching backpack but I rarely take anything out of it, which is understandable after stumbling home late Sunday night after 4 days of the convention center pressure cooker.  As the season reaches its midpoint, my backpack accumulates an overwhelming assortment of coaching accoutrement.  To open it would risk a stretch of bad luck (don’t change anything during a winning streak) or, after a difficult day of pool play, a cloud of coaching demons emerging to melt my face (à la Raiders of the Lost Ark).

My backpack only gets cleaned out when it surpasses the 100-lb threshold.  I know it’s there when I struggle to lift it off the bench when switching sides, and eventually decide to leave it there “in case we go to three.”  Yeah, I’m that coach.  Sorry.

I’ve found many unusual things in my coaching backpack, but the low point was the discovery of a several-month old banana last season.  It’s a testament to the space-age sealing power of a Ziploc that it had escaped undetected, but I handled the extrication of this potential environmental disaster with the delicate precision of a hazmat/bomb squad.  In case you’re wondering, a banana that is several months past banana bread stage is well into the fermentation process, but unfortunately does NOT turn into a banana daiquiri. (Or anything that tastes remotely like alcohol. Yes, I tested it. Scientific discovery requires personal sacrifice.)

The following items allegedly may have been recovered during my recent backpack exorcism:

  • Lineups for last year’s team, apparently just in case any of them want to come back and rejoin this year’s team. This is akin to keeping notes from an old flame – I’m constantly in fear of this year’s team finding them and turning on me in a fit of jealous rage, however, throwing them into a trash can just seems wrong.
  • 3 laptop chargers, all for the same laptop, all carried along with the hopes of getting some work done during tournament downtime … yeah, right.
  • The 2009 USAV Rules Book, with the Beach rules ripped out. (Sorry, but does anybody actually read the Beach rules? Don’t we just roll with local custom and folklore?)  For old-timers, we recognize that the 2008 version of the rules are probably more accurate than last year’s book.  I mean, our blockers’ relationship with the net has experienced more on-again, off-again drama than Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez.  I’m guessing we’ll be reinstating the serving zone again next year, and my 1995 rule book will be a hot commodity.
  • Over 40 “collectible” ink pens from purveyors of distinguished writing implements such as Embassy Suites and Marriott. Little known fact: hotel pens immediately stop working when you remove them from your hotel room, but you only discover this when you have 12 seconds to enter your lineup.
  • 5 bags of goldfish. I don’t know when I got them, but they tasted just fine.  Much better, in fact, than a 3-month old banana.

There is one sacred space in my backpack that never gets cleaned out: the mysterious “grab bag” pouch of whatever was in my pocket at the end of the day and transferred to my backpack in case of emergency.  Therein lies a coaching treasure chest of hotel key cards, mints, tissues, spare change, pre-wrap and athletic tape, lineup cards, old-school stopwatch, cough drops, wristbands and luggage tags, Starbucks gift cards with $.34 remaining on them, Gatorade chews (yes, I know they’re “just for the athletes”), loose pieces of gum, college coaches’ business cards, hand sanitizer, old broken whistles, long-expired Excedrin migraine pills, miscellaneous lanyards, medals, Eastbay discount coupons, Chapstick, and random pieces of candy.

Protecting this treasure is a variety of handshake gift pins from over the years (thank you Munciana and Borinquen Coquí) that have long ago lost their backings and lie in sharp, pointy anticipation for any unsuspecting hand looking to steal a spiral mint from a Chevy’s restaurant in Texas that closed in the early 2000s.  Luckily, if you fight through the pain and keep digging there are probably Band-Aids in there too.

I’d ask that if you find the above-described backpack during the season please return it to me when we switch benches.  It’d be great if you can clean it out first … but save me the goldfish, just in case we have to stay late for our pool’s 3-way tie.

-Jason Curtis

Coach Life

Depending on who you talk to, or what day of the week it is, I’m either the head coach of a fifth grade girls’ basketball team or the assistant coach of that same fifth grade team.  I have the chance, this year, unexpectedly, to coach Recreational Basketball [Rec Ball] at this level.  It’s… intense. My life before Rec Ball was, in hindsight, simple, quiet, normal, borderline unimportant.  Now?  Well, let me explain…

Emails.  If one believes being added as a recipient to any email list denotes prestige or purpose, then I have newly found purpose and loads of prestige.  On a nearly daily basis I now receive emails related to all forms of Rec League management, scheduling, addendums, procedures, and the like.  As my life used to simply roll along with no knowledge of such intricacies, it now has intimate knowledge of gym availability, talent show conflicts, and jersey distribution snafus.  While I used to walk through my day job making idle chitchat and giving the stock-standard ‘good’ or ‘not bad’ response to the ‘how’s it going?’ question, I now answer such a simple question with panicked tones of, ‘my day?!? How’s it going?!? Mt. Lebanon Physical Plant has a ventilator issue in the rooftop HVAC unit at Hoover and the 4th grade practice scheduled for 6:00 has to be moved to Howe which is ALREADY dealing with a parking lot overflow issue due to parent-teacher conferences! How do you think my day is going?!? How do you think…. it’s going?!?”. Emails have done this; they’re to blame.

Team Name.  On a team of nine [which is the perfect number for a basketball team- easily divisible by two] trying to select, offer, and/or vote upon a team name proved challenging.  When my wife and I decided upon names for each of our three children, a decision that would linger with them their entire lifetime, I don’t know that I had nearly the level of stress and anxiety as managing the process of offering, voting, and selecting a team name.  The team name, which is never listed on a scheduled, rarely chanted by the parents in the stands, and remains with the team for only the six or so weeks of the season, had more emotional fallout than Prom.  Girls who suggested a name that was eventually selected, they beamed with confidence and appreciation.  Girls who offered a name that was turned down, they became disillusioned with the democratic stylings and likely will never vote when older.

Position.  Each girl wants to play 1.  Point Guard.  They want to bring the ball up, call the play, dribble more.  If you didn’t know better, and I didn’t, you’d think the other four positions were of total unimportance to the offensive strategies of a team.

Plays. Dreaming up and designing plays for a 5th grade basketball team is fun; in the theory of it, it’s fun.  The idea that you’ve designed a play that will manage movement, distribute the ball purposefully, create space… it’s wonderful; that’s in theory.  In execution?  Let me explain the offensive play: “1”.  The point guard calls ‘1!’.  The 2 comes and sets a pick allowing the 1 to dribble right. Timing the pick and movement perfectly, the 4 then crosses the lane to set a pick for 5 who, waiting patiently for the ensuing pick, then comes across the lane towards the ball-side and receive a pass, either chest or bounce, from the 1. All the while, the 3 remains distanced in an effort to create space for the play to run… eventually coming to the foul line– only after 5 receives the pass–in an effort to provide an outlet or pursue a rebound.  That’s the theory.  In reality, the point guard might as well yell ‘Fire!’ as they come across the line, sending all players, and some spectators, into a frenzied rush colliding with others around them in a desperate search for safety.  It’s, um, not the same as you see it in your mind.

I could go on, trust me.  Substitutions based on height, oversized jerseys that fit like trash bags, 8:10 pm practices that feel like… wait for it… herding cats. I could go on.  But you know what… I really like it.  I do.  I don’t know the names of other coaches like other coaches do.  I don’t know which team has that girl who “should be playing travel”, and I don’t know the score, ever, of the games that we play since the scoreboard never operates [and I’m too busy trying to make sure everyone gets a chance to play 1].  I never thought this would be my life and, depending on the day or who you ask, my coaching title varies.  Still, I love it.

-Tom Mooney

Facing the Firing Squad

For the relatively low cost of an admission wristband to your local convention center volleyball tournament, you can participate in the volleyball equivalent of natural selection: hitting lines.

Unlike high school and college volleyball where the back-and-forth exchange of the court for 46 combined warmup drills often takes longer than the actual match, in club volleyball you get a grand total of 4 minutes to fix every passing, setting, attacking and serving problem before playing.

In recent years it has become a requirement of good coaching etiquette to offer your team as child labor to retrieve the volleyballs for the opposing team, a task that they will approach with the same enthusiasm as if they were chosen as tribute for the Hunger Games.  You’ll notice that no coaches volunteer themselves for this risky endeavor.

And who are the unfortunate souls sitting in the seats, being protected by this uninspired Children’s Crusade?

Moms who are scrutinizing the chaperone’s performance in the vital areas of snack bag assembly, laundering jerseys constructed of magical space-age fibers, and relaying pool play information that we should have all found ourselves.  Dads discussing yesterday’s game and the length of today’s Starbucks line with another father whose daughter has been on our team for 7 years but we have absolutely no idea what his name is because we’ve been calling him buddy/pal/man/hey you for all these years.  Coaches who are discussing [insert unbelievably boring volleyball stuff here].  Officials waiting for the next match, wondering if it’s worth trying to get back to the hospitality room before they have to get up on the stand, and what did they did wrong in a previous life to make this match go to 3 games.  Younger siblings facing away from the court drinking a smoothie and watching Disney re-runs on the iPad for the 974th time.  And most horrifying of all: kindly grandmothers who have brought their reading glasses, their flip-phone and a coffee … the only breakable item Grams left at home was her collection of Hummel figurines.

You’ve seen this movie before: a gasoline tanker, a cement truck and a Prius are all approaching an intersection with a malfunctioning stoplight.

We already know that the “shaggers” won’t actually stop a single ball, and in this volleyball version of Angry Birds the hitting lines start picking off the unsuspecting spectators in increasing levels of creativity and mayhem.

Like the wide variety of “prevent defenses” employed in the NFL, volleyball players have come up with a beautiful array of creative ways to make sure that they… Prevent. Absolutely. Nothing.

Here are the 5 most popular shagging-but-not-really-shagging moves guaranteed to blow up your latte:

The “Woah, Didn’t See That Coming!”: Players are usually surprised when the opposing team starts hitting.  Even though the novice-shaggers lined up on the endline for no apparent reason, and the other team is stocked for 4 minutes of chaos with a setter, 6 volleyballs, and a line of wildly inaccurate hitters lined up and foaming at the mouth, it still comes as a surprise when that first hitter sends one your way.  Spoiler alert: hitting lines is more than a clever name.  Even more shocking: the player behind her might hit one too!

The “Soccer Wall”: Just like in soccer, athletes will only remember at the very last second that they’d rather get hit in the backside with a projectile, rather than risking their future modeling career with “Molten” tattooed on their forehead.  So, like a Brazilian superstar with beautiful hair and only one name, our pseudo-shaggers turn around as the ball bounces their way.  Unfortunately, us mere mortals in the seats don’t have goalie gloves and years of training to handle the incoming missiles.  So much for our modeling careers.

The “Hackey-Sack”: Unless you’re on tour with Phish or living in a Berkeley commune, you look silly standing around kicking your feet in the air, especially when you miss the ball as often as our faux-shaggers.  Hey volleyball player: there’s a reason you didn’t make the soccer team and it has less to do with your reluctance to run more than 30 feet and everything to do with the fact that your feet are so far away from your brain that they don’t actually do anything useful when you kick at the ball.  I’ve never met a volleyball player named Pelé … for good reason.

The “Hey, We’re Talking Here”: The pinnacle of rudeness, many attackers have broken up a serious conversation about a teammate’s gorgeous brother who has come to watch the tournament and even though he hasn’t stopped looking at his phone I just know that he came to watch me play and does my hair look good and … HEY!  An angry look toward the hitting lines tells the offending outside hitter that “this is an A-B conversation, and you need to C yourself hitting somewhere else.”

The “Walmart Greeter”: Other than a friendly smile and a wave, I’m not exactly sure if the non-shagger is considering doing anything with the volleyball other than just waving it through.  “Welcome to hitting lines!”

You’ve been warned.

-Jason Curtis

Make Someone’s Day

I did the unthinkable tonight: I actually answered the landline in our house and talked to a telemarketer who called during dinner. (Don’t ask me why we still have a landline)

Maybe I was in the mood to answer some questions or more likely I felt like giving some relief to a harried telemarketer who was undoubtedly receiving significant abuse during this vicious election cycle, but I agreed to answer her questions as long as I could ask her one question for each question she asked me.

She chuckled, and perhaps out of boredom, curiosity, or just a desire to actually record some responses, agreed to the bargain.

The following is our exchange:

Question 1

Her question: What is your opinion of Hillary Clinton? Favorable, somewhat favorable, neutral, somewhat negative, or negative? [response deleted]

My question: Where are you calling from, and is it dinnertime there as well? “Central Florida, and I have no idea where you are.” (Not a great start)

Question 2

Her question: What is your opinion of Donald Trump? Favorable, somewhat favorable, neutral, somewhat negative, or negative? [response deleted]

My question: How did you get into this political poll calling business? “There was an ad on Craigslist.” (Still breaking through the ice at this point)

Question 3

Her question: If the election was today, who would you vote for? Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, or Gary Johnson? [response deleted]

My question: What is your view of the American public from your conversations on the phone? “Really scary.” (Now we’re getting somewhere)

Question 4

Her question: How likely are you to vote in the election? Likely, somewhat likely, don’t know, somewhat unlikely, or unlikely? “Likely”

My question: If you could wish for one thing for the American public, after your experience calling people for their opinions every day, what would it be? “I’d like people to be happier.”

That’s a fair answer.  And, in fact, I couldn’t agree more.  Regardless of who they’re voting for, whether they have a landline, or if they’re willing to answer a political poll, everyone deserves to be happier.

So, what could the two of us do to fix a national problem?  One, an educator trying to figure out how to make education relevant on a daily basis, and the other a telemarketer who was simply trying to pay the bills by calling people during dinner.

We decided that the two of us could make people happier one at a time, starting with one person each.  So, before ending the call, we both agreed that we each would commit to making one person’s day happier tomorrow.

The hard thing about this promise is that if I don’t make good on it, I have no idea how to call her back to apologize.  Somewhere out there in central Florida is a woman who just might try to go out of her way to make someone happier tomorrow, and who should be expecting one other person in the country to make good on their end of the bargain.  Maybe this is the best kind of deal: one that I should be making anyhow, and one that I can’t back out from.

Feel free to join me in trying to make someone’s day happier … it sounds like everyone around us could use it.

-Jason Curtis

Lost in Translation

Class ended just the other day.  As students walked out, one lingered, wanting to talk.  As the last of his classmates exited, the student came to me.  Back to him in a minute.  A day before, a foreign exchange student had been introduced to our class; she spoke little to no English and didn’t understand much of anything said.  I worked through instructions in broken Spanish, embarrassed as I tried to recollect basic words to help her along.  I was doing everything but speaking loudly in an effort to help her.  It was trying, mainly for her.  We worked through some understanding, I Googled the word ‘fate’, found destino, and all moved along from there.  She was sweet and understanding through it all- patient and smiling as I tried my best but managed only to insult the spirit of my high school Spanish teacher all these years later.  Now, back to the other student.  He stood there fairly nervous, it seemed; I’d only known him for three classes so far. It started.

“Uh, hey, um, Mr. Mooney”


“The uh, the girl over there, in class, the new girl… does she, uh, speak English?”

“Well she is a foreign exchange student. I think she can speak very limited amounts- but her receptive language is challenging; she can’t really understand it yet.”



“Um, I want to ask her out to Homecoming, but that might be hard.”


“What’s her name?”


“But she doesn’t understand English?”


“Got any ideas?”

“Not many.”

“Oh, okay. I’ll try to think of something.”

Homecoming? It was the third day of school and I’d known the one student for three days and the foreign exchange student for one.  Again, this isn’t the sorta thing you outline in a college textbook—generally it’s best to remain respectful of student’s personal lives and maintain a professional and appropriate distance and boundary.  But that’s sometimes the thing you don’t expect.  That’s just what happens when you’re dealing with youth.  Short of giving him a remedial Spanish textbook, I was hard-pressed to know what my role was.  I wish them nothing but the best.

-Tom Mooney

A few thank yous.

In response to Tom Mooney’s post on school supplies, we’d like to offer up a preliminary thank you list:

  • Thank you, Sharpie pens. You’ve never let me down.  Except for the time I left your pen cap off overnight—but that one is on me.  And the dryer incident of 2009 when you ruined a load of laundry–yeah, that’s on me too.
  • Thank you, cursive writing. Though I don’t use you like my elementary teachers promised I would, I still really like the way you look when my mom and Grandpa send me letters.
  • Thank you, Olympians for making the world a smaller place, a better place for a couple of weeks.
  • Thank you, USA volleyball: men’s and women’s teams, and beach players—toughness, resilience, excellence, and joy. Kerri Walsh-Jennings, all we’re asking for is four more Olympic Games.  You’ll only be 54, and April Ross will only be 50.  That will still give you an early retirement compared to most professions.
  • Thank you, Meb Keflezghi for rising up, for pushing up and finishing a great run and a great career. It seemed like a fitting metaphor.
  • Thank you, high school marching bands for providing the soundtrack to “Back to School” on campuses across the United States.
  • Thank you, off buttons for forcing us to stop and pause in a fast-paced, plugged-in, 24-hour world.
  • Thank you, custodians for making old buildings look fresh and new—even if you can’t do anything about the smell of English literature texts and floor wax.
  • Thank you, “kid who doesn’t have a pencil on the first day of class,” for reminding us as much as things change, some things don’t.
  • Thank you, pep rallies for reminding us that while music, fashion, and technology may change, what makes teenagers laugh is pretty much still the same as when we were kids.
  • Thank you, copier paper jams.  You make me reconsider making class copies and allow me to claim “environmentalist status.” #SavethePlanet
  • Thank you, patient parents, who know that teachers and coaches are just goofy humans like everyone else and quietly cut us slack even when we don’t acknowledge or deserve it.
  • Thank you, everyone on staff who DOESN’T hit “reply all.”  Your thoughtful restraint is something to be admired, honored, and emulated.
  • Thank you, publishers of huge textbook.  –Signed gratefully, Future Chiropractors of America.
  • Thank you, three-hole punched paper; you’ve made our jobs necessary. –Signed, Three-Ring Binders Union.
  • Thank you, Master Lock. Your “turn right three times, stop at the first number, then back to the left one time past the number stopping at the second number, and then turn to the right stopping at the third number the first time this time” has kept millions of lockers secure.  Secure even against people who own the lock and have the combination and just want to get their lunch bag out of their own locker.
  • Thank you, Microsoft Word.  Otherwise, my multiple-choice questions wouldn’t have changed since I first gave them in 1997.
  • Thank you, students who are willing to tell me when I have something stuck in my teeth, pen on my face, chalk on my pants, or something stuck to me.
  • Thank you, concession stands everywhere for supplying kids in the bleachers with the sugar necessary to get them through the match…and their bedtime.
  • Thank you kids for saying ‘thank you’ after every practice. I hope you say the same to your parents when they drive you home.
  • Thank you, assistant coaches for being a sounding board, organizer of details, and a perfect conduit for young people and the head coach.
  • Thank you, assistant coach who always has mints or gum.
  • Thank you, fans for respecting great effort, outstanding play, and good sportsmanship on both sides of the net.
  • Thank you, Employee of the Month parking spot for making me feel so, so lowly.
  • Thank you, #2 pencil for making me wonder why I’ve never heard of, seen, or used a #1 pencil.
  • Thank you, Automated Snow Delay call for waking me so many times with your soothing computerized female voice.
  • Thank you, Student with a Forged Absence Note for putting me in the terrible position of knowing that it’s forged but not having the professional stratagem to properly enforce my assumption.
  • Thank you, School Cafeteria Staff for putting most food items in visually divided steel containers and trays to ease my order as I simply point towards stuff.
  • Thank you, Double-Doors for always having one door locked which is invariably the door I attempt to open.
  • Thank you, kids and sports and the combination of the two for teaching us all about competition and compassion.
  • Thank you, Athletic Directors, Principals, Superintendents. You receive far more complaints than compliments when it should be the other way around.
  • Thank you, volleyball referee’s net-measuring chain for making me always doubt the correct net height. Does anyone own a tape measure?
  • Thank you, administrative policy meetings, for making me thrilled to return to the classroom each and every time.
  • Thank you, students and athletes who aren’t afraid to ask “why?”
  • Thank you, colleague who takes their leftovers out of the teacher’s lounge refrigerator at the end of the week. I only wish there was more than one of you.
  • Thank you, brevity.
  • Thank you, coffee.  Just, thank you.

The Teacher Olympics

Let the Games Begin

The world is in Olympic withdrawal.  But rest easy, you will not need to wait four years before the Tokyo Olympics once again has you engrossed in a preliminary heat of an event you previously did not know existed rooting for a competitor whose country you previously did not know existed.

It is no coincidence that this withdrawal, this void is filled with—that’s right—the strategically-scheduled Teacher Olympics.  A surprise to many, NBC did not see it “fiscally responsible” to fork over millions for the television rights for their airing.  Below you’ll find a primer for the games.

Cell phone chuck: Competitors must extract a Nokia phone from a student pre-occupied in a snap story and launch said Nokia phone down a 14-foot wide hallway.  Think hammer-throw, but lighter and with more shattering.

Olympic record: While no teacher can compare with the great Dries Feremans, Finish educator Erno Rautio threw a Nokia 309 feet; if not for some ill-placed art hanging from a drop ceiling, some say it could have gone an easy 350. Cell phone chuckers from the ‘90s insist if their era’s phones “didn’t weigh as much as a college nose tackle” that they would have broken the 400 foot mark easily.

Xerox Dash: Simulating the last-minute revelation that a handout is needed for class that’s about to begin, the teacher dashes through the hall, weaving in and out of student traffic to make a set of 30 two-sided copies in the copy room and sprint back to the classroom.  The course includes stairs and sometimes an unanticipated line at the copier or, God forbid, a jam in tray 3.

Olympic record: A controversial one, indeed.  It was a fast course in the ’88 Games (read: no copier line, no toner replacement required, few students in the hallway) when Carl Brooks (the school’s cross-country coach) ran a 49.67 Xerox Dash.  Skeptics suspect doping, with allegations of him consuming 3-4 cups of coffee before the historic run.

Paper distribution hurdles: The competitor must distribute a handout to 30 individual desks.  Child’s play, an event in which even the greenest student-teacher could excel.  But the hurdles—10-15 backpacks and musical instruments are intermittently placed about the room requiring the competitor—in dress shoe, mind you—to clear the obstructions.  Fastest time wins.

Olympic record: Gail “Devers” Jenkins, 12.61 seconds.  Coming off a sprained ankle suffered while wearing an ill-advised stiletto in a preliminary heat, Gail’s switch to a pump in the 1984 Paper Distribution Hurdles gained her a gold medal and an Olympic record that made the multitude of paper cuts worthwhile.

Paper distribution steeplechase: Standard rules of the Paper Distribution Hurdles apply with a couple of heightened challenges.  The obstacles of backpacks and musical instruments still exist, but you will find competitors hurdling flutes, clarinets, or piccolos in the steeplechase.  Think, violas and tubas.  Climbing atop cases is common.  On the other side of the bulky instruments is a spilled liquid—coffee, water, Monster Energy drink—which competitors have to step through.

Olympic record: Overcoming the residual film on the bottom of his Sebago Docksides from a spilled Venti Latte, Bob Dunder slogged his way to a gold in the ’72 Games in Seattle with a time of 32.49.  Mr. Dunder, to this day, wears those same Docksides.  Some students say in a quiet hallway when the ventilation fans aren’t making much noise, if you listen closely you can still hear the suction noise of ceramic tile grasping at the spilled Latte of the ’72 Games on his shoe bottoms.

Paper Stack and Carry: No event captures strength and agility the way the Paper Stack and Carry does.  This event forces competitors to collect a day’s worth of essays, homework assignments, and classwork (some experts estimate this to weigh as much as 47 kg.), take the paperwork home (not grade it, though that’s being redundant), and return it to school the next day.  The return to school requires the competitor to not only lug the unmarked stack from car to classroom but to do so while dodging busses, carpool minivans, and cars of newly licensed drivers.  Technical difficulty additives: carrying a hot beverage, using a key or card to enter the building, and navigating stairs.

Olympic record: Guy Schemansky, a 7th grade life sciences teacher at Kennedy Middle School, once hoisted a set of 118 poorly-written, barely legible lab reports from his ’97 Ford Taurus to his 3rd floor greenhouse on a day in which minivan drop off traffic was particularly high due to science fair project submission.  What has analysts still raving about the feat is that he did this while holding a 44 ounce, Big Thirsty from the local 7-11.  When asked how he was able to swipe his card to get into the building, the ever-humble Mr. Schemansky deflected credit, “I couldn’t have done it without the lanyard…and these New Balances.”

Faculty Meeting Ultramarathon: This endurance test makes the Badwater Ultramarathon look like the local Thanksgiving Turkey Trot.  Teachers are corralled to a non-descript, windowless meeting area littered with AV equipment from a bygone era.  It’s May.  It’s after school.  And there are 16 agenda items, plus a guest presenter.  Competitors are told, “It will be short” but they all know that’s a lie.  Competitors must endure.  Judges will deduct for the following: dozing off (-1.0); appearing overly interested (-0.5 per infraction), appearing too disinterested (-.5 for looking at phone or doodling, up to -2.0 for reading an unfolded newspaper), stomach grumbling (-0.5—poor snack management is like a dehydrated marathoner), and asking a question (-4.5).

Olympic record: Mary Alice Crammel scored a perfect 0 in the 2004 Games.  She explains: “Ya know, I had a piece of cake from the faculty room on my hall duty that day, and I think that’s what propelled me.  I wasn’t hungry.  And when Dr. Vandersleeves went into the details of the Severe Weather Drill procedures on agenda item #6, I just zoomed in on the cat poster affixed to the wall behind him.  You know, the one where the kitty is dangling from the tree by a paw, and it reads, ‘Hang in there’?  I guess I did.  I knew I had it won when Mr. Anderson asked for clarification of what constituted “severe weather.”

Hey…YOU! In this competition, a student from at least seven years back enters the classroom of their unsuspecting former teacher.  The returning student must have gained at least 15 pounds from their high school days; must have an altered hairstyle and/or color; the addition of facial hair is required for all returning male students, the addition of facial hair is optional for returning female students.  Within five seconds the teacher/competitor must produce the first name.  Responses such as, “Hey, YOU!” “Hey, girl!” “Hey, m’man!” “What’s up, my brother?” will earn no points.

Olympic record: In real-life, probably Rich Schall (Court and Classroom writers Dan and Mike’s dad).  Mr. Schall had the uncanny ability to see a former student in a grocery store aisle, pause with a furrowed brow and index finger extending from his chin to the tip of his nose, as he rummaged through his temporal lobe before giving the former student his name, graduating year, and the names of fellow classmates.  Like any parent, the names of his three sons ironically were/are often used interchangeably.

-Dan Schall

Volleyball Haiku

A middle hitter

rarely knows where he should be –

don’t ask him to serve


Even Johnny Depp

would look like a total dweeb

in official’s gear


Elizabeth’s mom

loves letting the scorers know

they made a mistake


The fit of their pants

and their hairstyle choice point to

a ref’s quality


Grey and forest green

make for a good uniform

until you’re sweating


Net height, air pressure,

jersey contrast, pregame crap:



Ankle socks, rec specs,

bubble kneepads, platform out:

you should serve this girl


Evening challenge match:

part of you wishes that you

had just finished fourth

-Dan Long

Letter of “Recommendation”

Super Competitive University

April 29, 2016

Dear Admissions Officer,

Thank you for your kind words about the recommendation letter I wrote in October in support of Joe Senior’s application to the wonderful Super Competitive University.  I appreciated you noticing that I included the terms “mind-blowing,” “mythological” and “supernatural academic freak” all in the same sentence, as that won me a coffee bet in the teacher’s lounge.  I think Joe’s parents were happy that my letter gained him admission to your fine school, and I very much appreciated the “Teachers Do It With Class” coffee mug and $5 gift card to the local school supply store, as I was running low on decorative bulletin board borders.

I was happily surprised by your request for a follow up recommendation letter for Joe.  This is the first time I’ve been asked for a second recommendation (with the notable exception of every Amazon vendor who would very much like 5 stars).  I’m delighted to give you an update on Joe’s progress in the second semester of his senior year.

Joe should be really well rested by the time he comes to SCU Freshman Orientation.  He’s sleeping a great deal, and I know that you will appreciate the long-term planning acumen demonstrated by his napping as much as possible during second semester so that he can be fully refreshed for his SCU experience.  His ability to balance dozing along with Snapchatting in class reflects his commitment to personal well-being and developing relationships.

As he promised in his application, Joe has followed his passions and is looking to change the world.  This semester, his passions do not include nearly as many Advanced Placement courses, and he has thoughtfully prevented “burnout” by taking a full load of Study Hall courses.  Being freed of such constraints as writing, reading, thinking, participating, assessments and projects he has been able to explore his creative instincts through immersing himself in Netflix offerings.  Not all of his co-curricular internet-based tools are currently available through the school network, and while he advocated for a change in network administrative policies, he successfully subcontracted with the Coding Club to gain proxy server access to all of his favorite educational websites.  His diligence, resourcefulness and grit continue to amaze all of us.

Joe has also completed some project-based learning this semester that continues to demonstrate his commitment to learning.  He planned a large social gathering for many people he knew (and many people he didn’t know – continuing his extensive record of community service), obtained refreshments through various means (supply chain management and international relations), had the opportunity to interface with the local police department (criminal justice and pre-law), and completed some major house renovations before his parents returned from a vacation in Bermuda (problem-solving, construction management, finance and fictional storytelling).

If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to give me a call.  I’ve got plenty of free time since I’ve assigned the next 5 chapters to various groups and told them their project was to “teach the class.”  We’ve also scheduled several movies, and the students are learning to be “accountable” by creating and grading their own quizzes.  Although I’ve not seen Joe in class since mid-February, I am sure that he remains a thoughtful, perceptive, and hard-working student who ranks in the top 1% of all humans I’ve ever encountered on this planet.


Mr. McAllister

Wait, what?

Scoring sheets pic 1

1) Matching Section:

______   a) The forms required to keep score for the most popular sport in the entire world.

______   b) The forms required to keep score for a volleyball match (only 2 out of 3 games).

______   c) The forms required to report your income and tax obligation for an entire year.

2) Essay: Which of these looks most painful to complete?

I just completed survived my official USA Volleyball online officiating clinic and test.  The clinic portion consisted of a variety of short videos narrated by very sincere volleyball officiating experts.  Each video helpfully began with a strong reminder to put away my cell phone and pay attention, thus explaining my total lack of a social media presence for 6 interminable hours this past weekend.  I was touched by the many friends who texted me, concerned that I was either trapped under something heavy, out of the country, dead, or worst of all, over my data limit.

Staying awake for a few of the videos was enlightening, as they described events in volleyball that I have never seen happen in over 25 years of playing, coaching and watching the sport.  Approximately 50% of the scenarios were devoted to correctly officiating and recording apocalyptic volleyball events, leading me to believe that I have been coaching in the most boring gyms in the United States, and despite all my best efforts, am the only coach/player/assistant team manager-trainer-libero-captain to not be regularly disqualified from matches.

Maybe, instead of making tens of thousands of junior volleyball players figure out how to correctly record a coaching disqualification, perhaps they can just talk to the few of us hothead coaches and tell us to knock it off?  And, if a coach does get expelled/disqualified/placed on double-secret-probation, then scorers can just enter: “Crazy coach tossed, Unicorns dominated 25-18, 25-6, & we wrote ‘I luv Biebs’ 8 times on back of flipscore.”

3) How far must a coach stand from the court during play?

  1. 1.75 meters (but only within the “free zone”)
  2. 7/4 meters (but not within the “unfree zone”)
  3. 1.75e+9 nanometers (and not a nanometer closer)
  4. 0.0009449244 nautical miles
  5. What is a meter? Is that like a cubit?  Wasn’t this game invented in America?
  6. Depends on the metric mood of the down referee
  7. All of the above except for one, but we’re not telling you which one

The videos were longer and more confusing than a Ken Burns documentary sequenced by Quentin Tarantino, so I wasn’t exactly confident starting a 25 multiple-choice question examination of my newly acquired officiating knowledge.  The test required a correct answer rate of 70% which I hoped would be as easy as a driving test, but proved to be a digital Gordian knot.  By question #3 I was sweating profusely, had used my 50:50, phone-a-friend and ask the audience lifelines, bought 3 vowels, purchased the redundantly titled “Coaching Volleyball for Dummies” on Amazon, and had set my only USA Volleyball rule book on fire.

4) What should be in your supplies bag as a scorer?

  1. Pencil, eraser, blue pen, red pen, black pen, timing device (watch or stopwatch), straight edge, correcting fluid and/or correcting tape
  2. Glitter, duct tape, Swiss-army knife, goldfish snacks from a 2005 tournament, flares, helmet, Pillow Pet
  3. All of the above

Are we scoring a volleyball match or scrapbooking?  Look, on my team, we give out an award if a player just remembers to bring more than 1 kneepad.  A watch or stopwatch … would you accept a sundial or Mayan calendar?  Correcting fluid?  If one of my players brought correcting fluid every 13-year old on the court would have white fingernails within 5 minutes.  Correcting tape?  We might have left it at home with our typewriter.  Do you know what we call correcting tape in the 21st century?  “Delete…edit…print another copy.”

Luckily, I discovered that if you fail the exam you can take it again immediately as many times as you would enjoy, which I did at least three more times.  The online testing program, known as “Dante’s 10th Circle,” cleverly created new questions for each new test, or even more fiendishly gave the same question and changed the correct answer.  I don’t know if it was a computer glitch or if volleyball rules had changed during my hours of déjà vu test-taking, but during test #1 we were using sideout scoring and by test #4 there was a new Libero position creating 83 subsections of fashion rules and causing teams to purchase double the number of jerseys each season.

5) Which of the following is the correct color combinations for team and Libero jerseys?

  1. Different color than team jersey
  2. Main jersey is solid color or a combination of colors and libero has contrasting colored jersey without any of the primary team colors or similar pattern and has piping that is on a working seam but less than 1 inch (or .0254 meters) width which can also be trim but only in certain areas of the jersey and don’t even get me started on sublimation, whatever that is.
  3. the dress pic 2

Do I actually have to know the difference between piping and trim, and how to identify a working seam versus a non-working seam?  At least I know you can’t wear white before Memorial Day.  If I see a Libero wearing a white jersey in February, I am definitely making a fashion violation notation on the scoring sheet.  This intriguing topic led to a week-long perusal of the eleven-page jersey rules interpretation and explanation guide (which does not give you extra credit on the test, by the way).  This fashion anthology, edited and expanded by the Internal Revenue Service, included a new term: “legal, but not compliant,” which is metric for, “by law we’ll allow you to wear it, but we don’t think it looks good and we’re going to make fun of you on Pinterest.”

The third unsuccessful attempt turned into test-taking into a spectator sport at the kitchen table.  My eldest daughter, who actually knows how to score a volleyball match, was unhelpfully offering suggestions that all turned out to be incorrect.  The two younger daughters had endured the live version of the clinic and chuckled knowingly while my wife seemed to be enjoying my repeated failures a little too much, if you ask me.  (My son explained that they don’t keep score at junior boys’ volleyball tournaments; they just run hitting lines for 2 hours and then call it a day.)

Due to a glitch in the Matrix I passed the test on the fourth try, but would understand completely if USAV decided to audit those results and make me re-test.  Wait, we don’t stop and wave in the middle of the court to start games anymore … did I miss that in the video?

6) _____Indicate which of the following correctly records the following game situation: Unicorns playing Dolphins, Dolphins coach given verbal warning, Unicorns player injured and replaced by new player, Dolphins have incorrect server, Dolphins coach expelled then disqualified, reffing team paints nails during the lengthy discussion, ready for play, Unicorns win game on awesome spike.

Correct scoring picture 3


-Jason Curtis…or is it Cason Jurtis?