I had a different blog with a topic close to my heart ready to go this week but it turns out that one has to wait for next week. If there is anything that the last four months has taught us its that things can change drastically in an instant and that we have to dig a little deeper to find our optimism on certain days. Corona virus has turned political and I hate that. The effects of being digital and virtual for months on end seems to have made us quicker to react and judge through the portals of social media and even on the street. We are human and our desire for connection hasn’t changed, but our circumstances have. Our healthy outlets like sport and community have been altered or entirely cut off…more and more we’ll do anything for a sense of normalcy, even hot yoga wearing a mask and rubber gloves. Breath, movement, and the ability to stay present are at the heart of our success every day and are also the things that keep us from going down the road of having a few too many drinks or eating our weight in ice cream… which is why the last and largest blow that COVID-19 took left me speechless for a day.
Over and over again sports have trained our toughness, our discipline, and provided motivation and identity to countless athletes at every level of their game. As difficult as they feel in the moment, the 5am wake up calls, the three hour practices on countless nights, and the tenacity it takes to perform at the highest levels consistently, no matter what the other struggles at the time may have been, have been a force in our house and a building block on the path to a successful life. On Tuesday, a year to the day that Luke’s team won the 17 Open National Championship, Stanford University announced that they would cut their men’s volleyball program, along with 10 other sports. There was no warning that this was in the works, Luke committed just one year ago to the school of his dreams where he has been attending games since he was nine years old. Before he had even touched a volleyball, he raced his sister around the track by the field house and went to swim camp, coming home exhausted on both occasions but with the dream set before it had the chance to become an actual goal. He did the tailgate scene at the football games, and even threw a football with Jim Harbaugh’s wife. I say all this because it shows how institutions as great as Stanford build connections and dreams from an early age and set the determined course of action in young hearts. Even in the times we are facing, it was impossible to see this coming from a school that has never cut an athletic program in its long and storied history. The talk about the endowment, $28 billion and climbing, falls on deaf ears as it isn’t earmarked for athletics. Given the size of it, it’s mind-blowing. Tuesday was a day that we just had to sit with it, there was no looking for silver linings, no this too shall pass sentiment to get past it more quickly. Sometimes things need to be acknowledged and felt for the awfulness that they are, and this is one of them.
But not even two days later as I write this, the question is where do we go from here? Although my heart continues to break for him, the feeling of calm that has come over me in the last 24 hours comes from my faith that the path that is right for Luke will present itself. No one can take away the skills that he has learned, both technical to his sport and, even more importantly, the intangibles of discipline, leadership, organization, and so many more that this amazing sport has taught him through his hard work. But the bigger implications for what a cut like this one means to the sport of mens volleyball are severe. When a place like Stanford drops it’s program, who is next? Who feeds our National Team and the Olympic spirit that has taken a hit during this pandemic as well. After being a part of watching players at the highest levels of club develop over the last eight years, and even opening a business to continue to be around the inspiring nature of the developing athlete and the role I know student/athletes play in shaping an optimistic future, it doesn’t feel right not to look for the avenue to change this decision. We all have a path to greatness, and for the men in the Stanford program, volleyball has been an integral part to theirs that will carry far beyond the court and create the compassionate leaders that the world needs more than ever today. Men’s volleyball at Stanford needs to find a way to fund its own endowment, and it even needs to be big enough to fund a women’s sport too due to Title IX requirements. It’s an uphill battle, but nothing unites people more than pain and purpose and we have both of those in abundance here. There is also nothing like fighting for what you believe in to the end, but knowing that no matter what you will land on your feet, because of faith and the human you have trained to be. That is undoubtably the case with this amazing program. The universal truths are being called upon to find the answers in these darkened days…as always, it’s not what happens to us but how we chose to respond. I’m not asking this on behalf of just my own son, but for the men who have worked their entire lives to earn their place at this incredible institution of higher learning. They are not just students, they are athletes, it’s part of their identity and what has created their story and, after all they have put in, it should not be taken away from them.