When I went to UC, I really got a boost in my volleyball skills. I always played on my fraternity intramural teams (including two-man volleyball, where Don Burton and I finished second to the Old Gold faculty team of crew coach Jim Buckalew and cross-country coach Carlsen). But the best experience was when my phys ed teacher Mrs. Thomas, who also served as volleyball coach, asked some of the better male players in her gym class to scrimmage the UC girls volleyball team. It became great fun to come to the last half of their practices, and play games against them. By the way, one of those girls—Brenda Stevens—graduated with me in 1980, and later became the volleyball coach at UC, a position she still holds today. [Way to go, Bren!]
As a WVU student, I continued to play intramurals, which were held on the basketball court at Stansbury Hall. I was proud to get to play in the same place where Jerry West, Hot Rod Hundley, and all the other great stars had played prior to the Coliseum in 1970. Upon graduation and taking my Presidential Management Internship at NASA Headquarters, I found that many other interns loved playing volleyball, too. We would meet regularly in the summer to play volleyball on the mall in Washington (mostly near the Lincoln Memorial, but sometimes up where the Indian Museum now stands). During the winter months, some of us formed a co-ed team that played in a D.C. recreation league. In the early 2000's, I played again in a church league (Anna even joined me a few times), but I have not played regularly since then. I figured maybe I should retire before I break something (I was never afraid of diving for a ball).
Over the years, I've taken in a number of UC and WVU volleyball games (and even a WV Wesleyan vs. Ohio Valley University game, where I got to sit with Don and Kym B. and watch their daughter Sara play for the Bobcats). Before Anna's job relocation to Morgantown, we would often spend football weekends in a hotel, and would attend any other WVU sports games on tap, including volleyball. After she moved to Morgantown in 2007 and I was up there nearly every weekend, we had more opportunities to see the WVU volleyball team. I'm sure the old coach was a nice person, but she had been the coach at WVU since the '70s, and it seemed that the Mountaineers rarely won. Even Marshall would beat them regularly, and they hadn't beat Pitt for nearly 30 years. The team just didn't seem to have it.
Lucky for us, the new WVU President convinced Oliver Luck to become our new athletic director this past summer. Oliver was the senior quarterback of the WVU team when I became a grad student here, and I've always admired him. One of his first moves was to “convince” the volleyball coach to step down, even though the season was getting ready to start. She was replaced with Jill Kramer, who had previous stops as an assistant coach at Virginia and Alabama, and who had worked with the U.S. National team.
It was a good move! She brought a new sense of energy to the team, and they had more success than ever before (including victories over Marshall and Pitt). It was definitely more fun to watch them play, and so Anna and I went to many more games than we had in previous years (including a fun night watching with the Burtons, followed by a stop at Mario's Fish Bowl). I was so impressed with the change the team made this year, I sent Coach Kramer an e-mail after the last home game, shown below:
Subj: Hang in there!
You don't know me, but I just wanted to thank you for taking the job at WVU this year. You brought a new sense of energy to the team, and made them fun to watch. My girlfriend and I also admired the way you handled the transition, especially given the short time you had before the season started.
I'm a huge WVU sports fan, and over the past several years prior to your arrival, I had watched a few games, usually in conjunction with football weekends. This year, because of the new attitude, we attended the games against Buffalo, Youngstown State, Pitt, Cincinnati (that Neimer girl is probably the best player I've seen!), Louisville, St. Johns, and Connecticut. On Friday, my parents (in their late 70s, but huge Mountaineer fans) also came from Parkersburg for the basketball double-header and the football game. I made sure they came early so they could see their first volleyball game—and they loved it. They've already told lots of their friends that the St. Johns-WVU volleyball game was the highlight of their busy sports weekend.
I hope that you have already come to know the special connection that West Virginians have with the Mountaineers. I trust that folks in Morgantown have helped to make you feel welcome here. We hope that you will stay with us for a long time (and not use this job as a short-term stepping stone). Keep up the great work with the team. We look forward to seeing you next year!
I was glad that I sent it, but I never got a response, so I wasn't sure if she ever got it, or if she was just too busy trying to recruit and improve the team. However, last Wednesday night, my Dad and I made a quick run to Morgantown to cheer the men's basketball team to victory over UConn. While at the Coliseum, I ran into Coach Kramer, and got the chance to shake her hand and congratulate her, telling her some of the same basic things I had tried to convey in the e-mail (without mentioning that previous message). She seemed to be surprised to have been recognized, and requested that I send her an e-mail because she wanted to invite me to the WVU volleyball team's annual banquet next month. So I went back to Parkersburg and sent her this message the next night:
Dear Coach Kramer,
I am the guy you talked with briefly at the basketball game last night, and you encouraged me to send you an e-mail. I am forwarding a previous message (attached) I had sent to you that probably arrived when you were very busy a few months back. I'm really glad to hear that you feel good about coming to WVU, because you truly made a difference this year.
I've always enjoyed volleyball, and played in rec leagues and in school intramurals (including at WVU). I'm not an expert, but I do find it fun to watch, and it was more fun watching the Mountaineers this year. Anna (my significant other) and I are looking forward to catching more games next year.
By the way, if you want to know more about me, check out the bottom of this page:
I included the link about me on the WVU Foundation page because it had my picture (in case she forgot our brief interaction) I wanted her to know a little bit more about the stranger she talked with at the game. I didn't reference the banquet invite that she had mentioned, because I felt a bit uncertain about crashing their party. If we did get an invite, Anna and I thought we might just sit in a back corner, like we did at a recent wedding we attended.
Well, here is her response:
Thanks for getting in touch! I appreciate the message you sent me before. Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner.
I read the info about you on the donor site . . . LOVE your passion and pride for West Virginia and WVU. We will be sending you some information about the Banquet on April 9th. I would like for you to sit at my table at the banquet as a special guest, and you can bring along Anna if she would like to come. We will also be playing from 9a - 4p in a tournament in the Coliseum that day.
Once again, I appreciate all of your kind words . . . I love it here at WVU and am positive we are going to do some great things with the volleyball program!
Let's Go Mountaineers!
So the good news is that Coach Kramer seems to be a good young coach who, despite her Texas roots, will likely stick around and help to pull up the program here. I'm glad she likes our state! And it looks like Anna and I may be going to their dinner (although I feel a bit funny getting to sit with the coach), which just goes to show what can happen when you take the time to extend congratulations to others. We also plan on supporting the team next season, and hope some of the rest of you will do so as well. I'll keep you posted on how it goes!