‘If you left skin in South Gym’ and other reasons to be thankful

Do you have regrets in your life that haunt you at night? Is there something that you wished you would’ve/could’ve done but never did? Is there an opportunity that perhaps you never pursued but now that you are wiser (and maybe older), you would’ve done things differently?

In 1988, I decided to stop playing volleyball at Penn State, and for the past 29 years have had literal dreams of rejoining the team ever since. I made the team my sophomore year (1987) as a walk-on and was fortunate to be the 12th-best player out of the 13-man roster. This allowed me to travel for matches to California to play against top-rated teams like UCLA and USC. 

While I was not as talented as most of my teammates, I loved the experience and was challenging our “starters” during practice every day. My minimal game-playing time came when we had just about rapped up a win with only a point or two remaining. I was content, proud and wore my practice grays incessantly as a symbol of my achievement around campus. Our team culminated the season by taking third place in the NCAA Division I Championship.

Penn State's men's volleyball team (I'm number 8)
Penn State’s men’s volleyball team (I’m number 8)

After the first season, our coaches began recruiting massive amounts of players and “massive players,” much taller and more physically talented than me, from around the globe. Our roster of 13 players grew to 19, and now with only 12 players on the court at once, I found myself going to our four-hour practices and shagging balls for everyone else. With a full schedule of junior year classes I made a decision to talk to Coach and offer my resignation. He understood, allowed me to keep my $500 scholarship, and recommended me to coach the boys team at State College High School. 

Fast forward to a few weeks ago during an industry recruitment trip to Penn State. I contacted the head coach (who luckily remembered me from my high school playing days) and he gladly welcomed me. His office was full of symbols of his and the program’s accomplishments since he took the helm over 20 years ago. 

I sadly shared with him my recurring dreams and my thoughts of regret in leaving the team early. He opened up and told me of a similar story about a setter than played only one season and then was distracted by other opportunities. His last sentence in his message was, “do you know what happened to that player? Bart Berkey is talking to him right now.” 

Coach Pavlik had somewhat of a similar story about leaving the team and then returning many years later to be their head coach. “If you left skin in South Gym (where we practiced), you will always be part of this team.”

In January, I will be returning to Penn State to participate in our annual alumni volleyball weekend. I may not jump, due to my knee surgeries and my disc replacements, and I may not even play, but I will attend.

From this story, I learned many things: if you have regrets, figure them out, place yourself in uncomfortable situations, give back, let people know how important things were/are to you, take risks and be thankful for all of the experiences thus far in your life!

MPD:  Be thankful…