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September 18, 2012 7:39 am

CULTURE SHOCK: I just can’t do it — captain

Written by Dante Geoffrey

The high school athletics season is underway, and for me, that means my first taste of professional sports coverage.

Not that I’m covering professional sports, but I’m covering sports as a professional. Baby steps.

During the current fall season, I am covering Powell High School’s girls’ volleyball and swim teams and enjoying most of it.

I enjoy when my focus is fully on my work, like when I’m running around the Powell Aquatic Center, weaving through throngs of swimmers as I try to best position myself to photograph the Panther swimmers and divers during swim meets.

I tend not to enjoy it so much when the focus turns inward, as it too often does.

After talking with senior swim captain Sarah Wurzel and senior volleyball captain Corianne McKearney during their respective practices, I was left feeling both impressed and ashamed. The former fully directed at and deserved by them, the latter landing squarely on its intended target: myself.

Both captains come off as amiable, confident and competent — three qualities I have trouble mirroring.

Like I explained in a column from the Aug. 30 issue, high school was (a) not that long ago and (b) a haunting 4-year-period which has left me with an eternal supply of self-hatred. High school was to shame what Costco is to barbecue sauce.

I played volleyball all four years of high school, three at the varsity level, and twice taking all-league honors (OK, second team, whatever). This would, I suppose, be impressive if it meant I was any good at volleyball (I was hugely mediocre) or if anyone had a reaction to boys’ volleyball besides a questioning of sexuality.

For the final two years of my career, I was one of the team’s two captains, a position I was completely and blatantly unqualified for.

Captains are team leaders. They respect themselves, and they respect others. I respected no one. It wasn’t an aggressive disrespect, but I didn’t know how to put forth the effort required to actively respect.

I was far too insecure to lead by example, and far too 140 pounds to be any sort of imposing figure. No one was going to listen to me, even if I had something to say.

My best quality as captain was just a God-given gift, displayed in my ability to only get caught half of the time I muttered “that’s bulls--t” under my breath to the referees. I’m sure the refs were thinking then, what I think now: Why the hell was I a captain?

I was an absolute failure in every regard. Players on the team were my friends, but didn’t necessarily respect me, and I certainly didn’t respect me. And my coach (as I now think about often) was likely disappointed by me – as well she should have been.

There was one incident during a practice, of which I (mercifully) don’t recall the details, where I frustrated my coach to the point of tears.

I’m pretty sure that’s not a very captain-esque thing to do.

But I knew no better. I had no idea how to lead. And it didn’t occur to me that I was failing at it until long after I graduated.

And to this day, I honestly don’t know if I just didn’t care or was completely oblivious.

If you’re thinking that sounds like a bunch of excuses, you’re right. But I know I’m a better person now. More mature. More capable. I try to tell myself that’s what’s important now.

In fact, I’d probably be an awesome high school captain now but none of the local high schools have been receptive to my attempts to enroll.

But that’s OK. From what I’ve seen, they have the type of leadership that the players, coaches, parents and community can be proud of.

So put down this paper and do what I do. Head to the next game, meet or match and be impressed with Wurzel, McKearney and the rest of the inspiring Panther athletes.

It just might help you work out some of those high school anguish issues.

Baby steps.

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