Ballin’ in Reno

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I’m now fully inculcated into the world of girls’ volleyball, thanks to my 16 year old niece Madeleine who plays on a club team (Inferno) with Bay Area Blast. The director started this volleyball club because he didn’t like some behaviors he saw in other clubs: coaches yelling at players, parents yelling at coaches and refs. Some parents are delusional about their daughter’s abilities and chances for scholarship. One mom was asked not to come to matches after she yelled at the coach and started arguing with the ref (strictly not allowed).

Obviously all parents think their children are the best player on the team. Teams that aren’t playing keep score and act as line judges (or “down ref” I believe) and keep the score. It’s not at all uncommon for them to fail to add a point, or to give it to the wrong team, but you can bet the eagle-eyed parents yell up a storm when that happens.

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Each event brings a different sort of drama. At one meet, it was discovered that one net was set at the boys’ regulation height, which was higher than the girls height. At another meet, a team of  BOYS played. They were younger than the girls although taller. Apparently their season had ended but they needed practice or something. Many complaints were lodged, to no avail.

The girls teams have a lot of camaraderie, with cheers before the game and organized whooping after a point. During the down time, while hanging around in the staging area, they all lie down on a fleece blanket and heap on top of each other like a bunch of kittens. This, of course, while texting and otherwise engaged with their cell phones.

My mother (aka the team grandmother), who still plays volleyball with her cronies every Friday night, is on hand to explain the rules as needed. The girls were all yelling out “Free!” at one point and she asked me if I knew what a Free Ball was. “Mom, we’re in public,” I said nervously, glancing around to see who might have heard her. It turns out “Free Ball” is when the other team is not spiking the ball when returning it, so you know you don’t have to be prepared to defend a spike. This is not the same as “Freeballin’” or “Going Commando” as I explained to her. She didn’t need my explanation since when not playing volleyball she watches both Seinfeld and Friends.

The tournaments are often at high schools; one was at the Mare Island Sports Complex in Vallejo, CA. Mare Island was at one time a thriving Naval Base, but is now just an residences and non-military industrial businesses. Building after building had nothing but broken windows. The whole area looks like the setting for some Tom Cruise post-apocalypic movie. Zombies would not be unexpected.

This past weekend my whole family went to Reno, Nevada, to see the Far Western volleyball tournament. For those unfamiliar with Nevada, the state allows gambling (and brothels). As soon as you cross the border from another state, every establishment has some kind of gambling machine, video poker, keno, whatever, in every spare corner. I don’t frequent men’s rooms but I imagine they are designed so you can manage your business with one hand and play video poker with the other.

Anyway, the Far West was three days of volleyball with over 100 teams. My Dad handled the requisite old guy comments. Noting the tiny spandex shorts the girls wore, he said “Hell, if they wore longer shorts they wouldn’t have to spend the whole game tugging at them.” Or when the server bounced the ball a bunch of times before serving, “It’s not a damn basketball. Quit dribbling it and serve!”

Reno, by the way, is a dump. Outside of the smoky casinos are people wandering the streets drinking out of paper bags. Inside the casinos, it was food buffet 24/7. That’s for the quantity eaters, not quality. As my sister said, “Good luck finding a nutrient in this town.” Although Madeleine did find a dish with tofu in it – go figure.

We stayed at the Sands Regency Hotel and Casino, along with a bunch of people in town for a bowling tournament AND a bingo event. There’s no confusing those crowds with say, a fitness convention. The Sands Regency was at one time considered luxurious (when brass and chrome were the height of home décor) and is now kind of run-down. And if you’re hoping to see Playboy bunny type waitresses in skimpy outfits and stiletto heels, look elsewhere. Here the outfits were short, but no managerial requirement to display cleavage. And flat shoes were allowed, as long as they were black to match the tights. Nobody made any effort to wear sexy shoes. We’re talking gardening clogs. Grandma loafers. Lesbian sandals.

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I did find the indie part of town; Recycled Records, non-chain coffee shops, Junkee (repurposed furniture, clothes, antiques). In keeping with their hipster credentials, I didn’t recognize any of the music. One song was, to the best of my descriptive abilities, French hip-hop.

The rest of the state is well represented at Cabela’s, a huge outdoor sporting goods store located just out of town. The NRA will sign you up for membership in the parking lot. J


2 responses to “Ballin’ in Reno

  1. What a rich, descriptive travelogue!

  2. Yes, it makes you want to move to Nevada, right?

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