Creating culture: Exploring traditions of MVHS sports teams

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Superfan

Many MVHS students enjoy professional sports, but for some, this love extends beyond lunchtime debates and quick checks of the Bleacher Report app between classes. These devoted fans show their love in different ways, from watching every single game of the season to traveling to another state to watch their team play in their home stadium. For these so-called “superfans,” their dedication to a team has had a profound impact on their life, from instilling character values to helping them de-stress.

CONSISTENT EFFORT

Senior Manav Shah has been a Patriots fan for years. According to Shah the Patriots’ head coach, Bill Belichick, doesn’t hesitate to bench star players if they’re playing badly and plays rookies even in crucial games.

“I think that’s what makes everybody work super hard since it doesn’t matter if you’re a 10-year veteran or you’re a rookie,” Shah said. “You’re going to have to play your best every game, otherwise he’ll sit you.”

Shah tries to replicate that effort in his own life as a soccer player. He remembers being completely out of shape and jetlagged after a trip to India.

He wasn’t expecting to play. But after one of the team’s other left wing backs broke his foot, Shah had to step in.

“Obviously I wasn’t in shape [or] anything, but I just had to keep pushing myself, and eventually we tied the game 2-2 and that was enough points to get us into the next round,” Shah said.

At the end of the day, being a football fan is about watching games. For Shah, the dedication his Pats has to playing good football is fun to watch.

“It doesn’t matter where you are in the country,” Shah said. “You can follow them and then you’ll see that [you] just fall in love with the way they play and the amount of effort they put into football.”

SMALL PLEASURES

Senior Anita Narkhede’s love for the Golden State Warriors started at her club volleyball tournaments, when parents would always discuss the previous nights’ Warriors games. Catching her interest, she started watching the Warriors as well and quickly got hooked.

“It’s mostly because they play with a lot of joy,” Narkhede said. “I like how it’s a fast-paced game, but also when they’re playing, they’re always smiling, they’re always laughing, they’re always having a lot of fun.”

Compared to other NBA teams who she feels can be “too serious” at times, Narkhede feels that the Warriors have found a good balance between work and fun, one that she strives to find in her own life. Narkhede tries to look for small joys in her life rather than getting too caught up in all the work she has to do.

Unlike others, who Narkhede says worry about their future job prospects after one bad grade, she tries not to sweat over the small stuff.

“‘Oh, you had one bad day, but it won’t make a huge difference in your life,’” Narkhede said. “If you pay attention to the little things which give you joy, then it’ll have a bigger impact on your happiness.”

LOYALTY

Social science teacher Scott Victorine is unsure where his love for the Minnesota Vikings came from. As a first grader watching football for the first time, Victorine fell in love with the purple and gold.

According to Victorine, being a Vikings fan isn’t easy. Although they are currently ranked first in the NFC North division, the team has never won a Super Bowl, and hasn’t been to the Super Bowl in 41 years.

While he would like his team to win, he feels that loyalty is much more important.

“It was just important to stick with your team, cause it’s kind of like life,” Victorine said. “There’ll be ups and downs, but you don’t get to pick when they’re up and when you’re down.”

He sees this loyalty as a character trait that helps him support his friends and family. About a year and a half ago, a friend of Victorine’s went through a divorce, and he saw helping his friend through rough patches as a part of his responsibility.

“It’s not always the most uplifting conversation. But it’s important that, as a friend, I’m there, to make sure he feels supported and that ultimately, he doesn’t get too rough,” Victorine said.

Even if he doesn’t solve every problem, he feels it’s important just to be there with his friends.

As Victorine says, it’s “sticking with people when times are not only good, but [when] times are tough.”

In the same boat: Sophomore Revan Aponso inherits his love for rowing

Sophomore Revan Aponso wakes up at 4:15 a.m. every Monday. He needs to be at the Redwood City Port by 5 a.m. When he arrives, he grabs a boat and fixes LED lights onto the boat – it’s still dark out. The crew rows for an hour, sometimes as far as twelve kilometers, and carries the boats back in, washes them and ties them up. By this time it’s 7 a.m. and Revan has to leave for school.

Revan is one of few MVHS athletes who participates in rowing. After playing both baseball and basketball, sports that he felt require athletes to start at a young age, Revan wanted a sport he could pick up later in life. His dad, who used to row, encouraged Revan to join the sport. Even though he began last year, he was able to transition pretty quickly since his teammates had similar levels of experience.

“It’s easier for you to keep up with your teammates and the other people in your club or league,” Revan said.

Revan soon realized that rowing was perfect for him. Unlike most sports, he was able to practice without feeling pressure from experienced athletes. Revan also liked the full body workout that rowing provided, without applying excessive stress on his body and causing any serious injuries.

As a high school junior in Sri Lanka, Revan’s father, Bimal Aponso, got into rowing through a friend. He rowed through high school, and started up again a couple of years ago. Bimal no longer races, although he still rows recreationally.

“Rowing is the ultimate team sport,” Bimal said.  “If everyone in the boat does not row in perfect synchrony you expend a lot of energy and get nowhere.”

Revan’s coach, Lynn Gardner, echoed this sentiment.

“Everybody has to be totally in sync, and everybody has to be able to depend on the other people in the boat,” Gardner said. “You want to know that everybody is giving a hundred percent just like you.”

Despite all the appealing aspects of rowing, Revan admits his passion  for the sport didn’t develop immediately.

“It was a growing-in period,” Revan said. “At the beginning, I remember getting up at four in the morning and [thinking to myself], ‘Wait, why am I doing this? Is it even worth it?’”

Revan cleans up after tying the team’s boat up at the dock. The team has to rinse off the boats after every practice, to prevent salt water from corroding the hulls.
Revan cleans up after tying the team’s boat up at the dock. The team has to rinse off the boats after every practice, to prevent salt water from corroding the hulls. Photo by Sannidhi Menon

Now, he has learned to love the sport, even if waking up early is still challenging. As a varsity rower, Revan has practices three times a week on the water: Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays. Weekday practices usually start at 5:00 a.m., while practices on Saturdays start at 6:00 a.m. In addition to practices on the water, the team meets in its coach’s garage twice a week and practices on rowing machines, or ergs, as the crew calls them.

Every few months, Revan competes in regattas, or rowing competitions, with his team. Local regattas usually take place in Oakland or San Francisco on weekends and involve parents, coaches and rowers. Although regattas usually last the whole day, Revan states that for most of the time, he is not rowing.

“A regatta is a huge team effort,” Revan said. “Most of the time is down-time between races so it’s a great way to get to know your teammates and bond with [them] and your coaches.”

Through rowing, Revan has built strong relationships with people in his community that he wouldn’t have met otherwise, and his coach has seen him grow tremendously.

“Personality wise, he’s become more confident,” Gardner said. “He interacts with everybody a lot more – it’s kinda pulled him out of his shell.”

And on top of his personal growth, the hard work and discipline that rowing has taught Revan make him want to pursue the sport through high school and college. Experience is no limiting factor in the sport; everyone is in the same boat.

Originally published in print magazine El Estoque Oct. issue

Beyond the magazine: One kill after another

When the junior boys volleyball team is hosting a game, the varsity team is already on the court preparing for its own match. Each player has their own miniature routine to follow before each match.

Across the court is senior captain Prathik Rao, who shoots hoops almost an hour earlier than when he’s supposed to be in the gym. There’s no pattern to his attempts, but there’s a volleyball where a basketball should be at the very least.

Junior captain Jason Shen joins him a few minutes later, and indulges in his club volleyball team’s traditional warm-up. Yoga. Their routine is a result of years of practice and experience, and stands in stark contrast to the sophomores who join their captains before their upcoming game.

The sophomores seem to wander around aimlessly before the game begins, but when head coach Paul Chiu calls for the varsity team to warm-up they join their focused captains and become one unit among three different classes of MVHS students. By the time they finally take to the court at 6:45 p.m, this team has the mindset of the MVHS volleyball team that stormed the league four years ago.

MVHS boys volleyball has made it a habit to dominate opponents. They have taken to the court for 87 sets in the regular season, in both tournament play and match play, and have come off the court with only 15 dropped sets. It’s too late for their opponents to deny these athletes a chance to compete in the postseason. But this isn’t a one season surprise. This year’s team has been built around the class of 2019, and even though they might be the youngest varsity team MVHS boys volleyball has ever had, they’re still in the top of their league.

Sophomore Sensations

They’ve given us a shot – with the seniors and the entire team and [the] entire program in general – ” senior Yash Hegde said.

Adarsh Pachori. Gautham Dasari. Kevin Mathew. Nikhil Bapat. Rajas Habbu. Apoorv Pachori. When they enter the gym before their game, they don’t have a set routine. They are the six sophomores on the varsity team. They can be found line-judging, working the scoring table or idling on their phones until Chiu tells them to begin warming up.  Despite joining this team relatively recently, when they’re on the court they can hold their own.

“Our sophomores are also a strong part of that core. We’ve had no choice but to surround ourselves with the sophomores,” Hegde said. “They’ve been an integral part in making our team whole and basically effective this entire season.”

Dasari played for Chiu last year as well, and with top prospects like class of 2016 alumnus Alex Li gone, he’s stepped up his game the moment last year’s season ended.

“I feel that now, [the upperclassmen] have been working so hard, that when I’m playing with them it makes me want to work a lot harder,” Dasari said. “Watching Jason and Tiki like hit the floor for every single ball, I’ve also kind of developed that mindset where you shouldn’t let anything drop.”

MVHS was the number two seed heading into the postseason CCS tournament, and it seems as though these sophomores didn’t have much difficulty adapting to a varsity playbook. Some of these players will compete at a varsity level for four years, and are already seeing results from adding younger players to their roster.

Tearing the League Apart

The team is poised to finish what they couldn’t win last year. The mantra of the previous three years still holds true today: win leagues, win CCS, win NorCals. Despite losing the talented senior crop, they’ve made up for it with a work ethic bordering on obsessive according to assistant varsity coach Calvin Wong.

“This year it’s a smarter and quicker run defense, so we actually just played defense better, and then we have learned to pick and choose on how we get kills compared [to] like hitting off of people’s hands, off the block, maybe tipping it to an empty area,” Wong said. “[Basically, not] going for the big flashy play of a big hit where we had that luxury last year with [Li].”

Last year the team chose to primarily rely on skill instead of hustle. This year’s team has had to focus and create a more enthusiastic defense in its place. Despite not being able to overpower opponents anymore, they’ve become one of the most dominating teams in the league when it comes to defending the ball.

Defense is the end-game for MVHS. Some games when their defense falls through, their lack of an offense becomes glaringly apparent. But in their 3-0 victories throughout the season, the defense helps the team generates the momentum to create the rhythm to prop up their offense.

“[Rao] and [Shen] are two of the best defensive players in our league, perhaps even in CCS, that have really been the cornerstone for our team and the foundation that we have built our program upon as of right now,” Dasari said. “That defensive mindset really comes from them.”

Head coach Paul Chiu notched his 200th career victory on April 6, and was also CCS boys volleyball coach of the year thanks to the success of the MVHS boys volleyball varsity team.

“One thing that we can see on the Monta Vista boys volleyball team this year is their team chemistry. They like playing with each other,” Wong said. “They might not necessarily all hang out in the same circles at school, but they enjoy putting in the work and the time together, which shows on the court with their hustle plays.”

Originally published at ElEstoque.org

Made of Memes

If you’re reading this, memes are dead. Because we, as a news organization, are doing the inexcusable: we are writing a news story on them. And according to Class of 2016 alumnus Zarek Peris, a meme that has been in the news is a meme already in its grave. Like a joke that has to be explained, a deconstructed meme is counterintuitive, because it’s fundamentally based upon its ability to relate with individual experiences.

The way we express our humor in the modern day has evolved. While we still do love telling cheesy jokes with slapstick punchlines or planning out elaborate pranks, memes have annexed the otherwise uncharted territory of internet humor.

So here is a toast to memes — those indescribable, indestructible, soon-to-fade-from-the-collective-internet-conscience Bibles of pop culture. Pantheons of that peculiar brand of online humor, they stand testament to the fast-paced brilliance of the internet.

Defining a meme

The term meme first appeared in “The Selfish Gene”, a book in which author Richard Dawkins explores evolution. Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, stated in the book that the key to understanding life is not by looking at “gels and oozes,” but by looking at information technology.

He proposed that the evolution of life is centered around replicators, machines that continuously churn out content. The human brain began as the main replicator, allowing it to repeatedly churn out ideas through books, music or art. But now a new replicator has emerged, and while Dawkins still believes the idea itself has yet to fully develop, this replicator was famously termed, by Dawkins, as “the meme.”

Memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation,” Dawkins wrote. “They compete with one another for limited resources: brain time or bandwidth. They compete most of all for attention.”

Memes, according to Dawkins, are ideas and behaviors spread from person to person within a culture. On the internet, memes first appeared as a term across various forums and message boards as early as the late 1980s. But it wasn’t until 2011 when the popularity of memes exploded. According to Google Trends, during October of 2010, the term meme had only reached four percent of its peak popularity. By April 2012, that number had risen to 26 percent, and in the following years that number continued to grow

Peris defines memes as a joke contained to a single work. It can be practically anything: a text, a phrase, a picture — but it must remain individual and self-contained.

“When you see something repeated over and over especially on social media you become infused,” Peris said. “Like why do you like your music? Memes are a style of comedy, something that you listen to over and over again, and it’s something that used over and over again. When you’re on social media you inevitably will see them.”

“The reach of a meme is even broader than that of a traditional inside joke. It [hasn’t] exed out previous humor it’s just given a platform for it.” -Class of 2016 alumnus Zarek Peris

The first meme that Peris himself remembers seeing was the one that is colloquially known as the ‘bed intruder’ video. It sparked his love, and passion, for memes. His exposure was originally concentrated to the online message board Reddit, but eventually, the memes he saw started appearing on other social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And so Peris followed.

The humorous images, videos and text spawned discussion with his friends in his Drama class. And so, during the summer of 2015, Peris’ friend and Class of 2016 alumni Zach Sanchez, suggested that they make their own memes.

“[Sanchez] was really interested in graphic design, so naturally [while he was] creating images, we were talking about memes, [and the discussion] was all ‘we should start a page,’” Peris said. “[Sanchez] spearheaded it when we started the page.”

Peris made his first meme on a Windows Vista computer. He didn’t have Photoshop, so he used an alternative: Microsoft Paint.  It was the first of many memes he’d make.

And so, in the summer of 2015, after two friends banded together and decided to create their own memes, the Facebook page “Squidward de la Future: Chrome and avant-garde memes from the 3000” was born.

The page, which has reached over 50 likes, is an ongoing hobby for the two of them, and has expaded to include other page administrators. Unlike other meme pages, which Peris explains can be rehashes of already pre-made memes, most of Peris’ memes are original. His meme style, as he explains, is taking a common trend and warping its description to be slightly off.

“Like the [meme] I [posted] of Thomas Jefferson– the meme is on the slightly off,” Peris said. “I’ve taken a common trend– like absurdist comedy–and combined with the fact it’s an inside joke.”

Memes, according to Peris, have allowed humor to become more accessible, like one gigantic inside joke shared across large online communities. But while the internet has given humor a broader reach, it has also kept these jokes contained to their own niches of the internet, keeping an air of exclusivity.

“I mean it’s not really a choice that you have. It’s a side effect of being on your social media,” Peris said. “Once you get into meme culture, you’ll like follow a bunch of different pages or whatever platforms you use, because it’s all a cycle, right? As soon as a news source does an article on the meme it’s dead. Like that’s the end of this life cycle. Boom! Killed. The end. Got the sword. Got the axe.”  

THE ONE WHO’S OBSESSED

For many people memes are important tools of social interaction, they enjoy “tagging” their friends on social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. For Sophomore Varshini Srikanthan her awareness of memes stemmed from the creation of her Facebook account two years ago.

“I just remember my friends would just keep tagging me in them and I’m like ‘Ok these are funny’,” said Srikanthan.

Now Srikanthan is often described by friends and classmates as obsessed with memes, something which she feels has made her and her friends’ sense of humor both darker and drier. But despite her love of memes Srikanthan finds that their humor can often be divise, sometimes taking the joke a step too far. 

“I think it kinda divides us into two types of people,” Srikanthan said, “Like people who are oversensitive and people who say whatever they want and make jokes about things that shouldn’t necessarily be talked about.”

She recalls an instance of seeing a Hitler meme online and that made her feel very unsettled and uncomfortable.

“It’s like you’re taking one step too far,”Srikanthan said “And to a point it’s kind of funny, but you see stuff like that, and you’re like ‘Whoa.’”

THE MEME WALL

It’s dubbed the “meme wall.” The eastern door of A111, its wooden frame plastered with creatively Photoshopped images, all stuck on with strips of clear scotch tape. The common subject of each meme is illuminated clearly under the bright fluorescent lights: history teacher Cody Owens’ face, Photoshopped and edited with the blocky white text and border characteristic of most memes.

It began as a simple prank. A quick search of “Cody Owens” on the MVHS website had brought up his picture. The next day saw the image blown up and printed out, seven copies to be exact, and pasted to the surfaces of his room. In the few minutes Owens had taken out of tutorial to go to the restroom, JV Football player Shakthi Elangovan had taped up the images to the walls. Then awhile later, after the JV team defeated Lynbrook, the first meme appeared, pasted to the door of his classroom without an explanation. From there it snowballed and soon not only the football players but Owens’ students as well were making their own memes.

Each photo used is taken either under his nose before class, during tutorial or taken from the picture published with the staff list on the MVHS website, before then being used to create a customized meme. The students do not attempt to hide their antics from their teacher, walking up to him during these breaks and taking photos as he watches in confusion.

“[Students will] just walk right up and I’d be like ‘what are you doing?’ and then suddenly their phone’s out and they just snap a photo [to use for the meme],” Owens said. “There’s one where I have a ‘Welcome to the Party’ poster, and they just replaced all the communist figures heads with my head. There can be bad ones out there, I’d be afraid to see those, but otherwise they are cool — they are something fun.”

While Owens is unsure why students are so comfortable with sharing the memes they make about him, he knows other teachers also have had memes made of them. He believes it’s the close relationships he has with his students and the football players that allows them to feel comfortable with making these kinds jokes with him Most of the memes were created when he began to build that foundation of trust between his football players throughout the season, trust that has allowed his students to be open with him about their antics.

“Sometimes I’d just turn around and see a student taping a meme to a door and that’s how that started,” Owens said. “They have one where I am sitting back in a chair and it says ‘Why am I a coach I could’ve been a model’? That one is probably my favorite.”

However, for his student Sidartha Murthy, the answer is clear.

“[Owens] seems really approachable and I feel like a lot of teachers almost feel like omnipotent beings, but Mr. Owens seems really down-to-earth — someone you could talk to,” Murthy said. “We come in here, he has the March Madness games on, we play X-box, 2k, but then we also come into class and we also learn a lot and we do really well in this class so it’s a good balance between learning and fun.”

And for sophomore Rithvik Madhdhipatla, Owen’s approachability combined with his nature to say quoteworthy tidbits is exactly why Owen’s makes a perfect target for their memes.

“He says a lot of funny stuff during class — we pretty much use whatever he says against him,” Madhdhipatla said. “They’re mostly something that happened in class, something he teaches. He did a whole lesson on government surveillance and how we’re becoming like a dictatorship, and that’s [when we started] NSA memes and Illuminati memes. He’s a conspiracy theorist.”

Peris explains that it’s these communal trends and inside jokes which make memes work. The current, repeated ideas were produced by those who are and who want to be “in” on the inside joke.  

“It’s like an inside joke, so you want to follow a common trend that people know,” Peris said. “Whenever you post a meme it’s gotta be something that’s current and trendy that you see within the community, that you see other people posting.”

And while memes are commonly expressed through social media’s viral nature, it hasn’t replaced older expressions of humor. Instead, it’s become an enhancement.

In fact, for Peris, memes are a form of expression that make the world more connected than it was before. Their low barriers to understanding, infectious nature on social media and the explosion of online pop culture have allowed for them to take such prominence online.

“You have people that have difficulties in social situations always on these online communities. You have people that are completely comfortable with social situations also on these online communities,” Zarek said. “The reach of a meme is even broader than that of a traditional inside joke. It [hasn’t] exed out previous humor it’s just given a platform for it.”

 

Originally published on pg. 22- 27 of El Estoque’s April 2017 print edition

Mismatched: Boys basketball overcomes their size disadvantage

This story appeared in the Feb. 2017 issue of El Estoque under the title “Mismatched”.

Whenever the MVHS boys basketball team meets its opponents at half court on game night, they look mismatched. Almost without exception, their opponents tower over them. But despite these potential disadvantage, the Matadors continue to compete against these larger teams.

VARSITY Basketball
Photo by Sannidhi Menon. Design by Akshara Majjiga.

The team is one of the shortest in the league, with an average height of five feet eight and a half inches. The Matadors’ tallest player stands at six feet two inches, which is nothing to scoff at, but still remains one of the shorter centers in the league.

Junior guard Zachary Whong, a two-year varsity veteran who is five feet nine inches tall, has realized he can’t rely on his size when playing.

“Being big is a big part of the game — size plays a major factor in the game of basketball,” Whong said. “So when you’re small, you have to use your speed, you have to play smarter, you have to make reads better.î

Part of playing smarter comes from the direction of the bench, where head coach Jim Forthoffer guides his players through the game, holding his classic placards with labeled plays and defenses. Forthoffer, who formerly coached at Mountain View HS, experienced a significant transition when he switched schools, as Mountain View HS had a more traditional basketball program, where the team’s average height was around six feet.

With this new team, Forthoffer has brought about a different style of play that relies less on height. Offensively, this style consists of an effort to move the ball by repeatedly screening and cutting to get an open shot. This way, players don’t need to worry about directly facing someone who’s much larger than them.

COLLEGE ATHLETES
Photo by Sannidhi Menon. Design by Akshara Majjiga.

“If I can fake one way and beat you to the basket, [it] doesnít matter how tall you are,” Forthoffer said.

Although the team is shorter than the average high school team, Forthoffer says the  players are more flexible than most common teams, making it more feasible to learn plays.

This mindset also makes it easier to overcome old habits and to start boxing out defensively, which he says was something the team needed to do.

Height especially plays a role on the defensive side. Initially a taller team can easily get over the shorter players and go to the basket. But Forthoffer says that his players need to get used to immediately boxing out after a shot has been taken, as that denies the larger opponents from reaching over for the rebound.

Sophomore Siddhant Rao contests a three-point shot taken by Lynbrook HS. Photo by Rana Aghababazadeh
Sophomore Siddhant Rao contests a three-point shot taken by Lynbrook HS. Photo by Rana Aghababazadeh

During practice, the taller players tend to give in to the instinct to reach, but this habit shouldn’t carry over to the game where MVHSí tallest players are only seen as average compared to other high school basketball teams like Mountain View HS.

Another defensive strategy is double-teaming larger guards. Double-teaming consists of two players who are generally shorter both guarding a single person with the ball in attempt to get a turnover. However, the team must maintain a rotation to consistently defend the person with the ball. MVHS’ speed allows them to rotate easily and still be able to guard a big player.

“We have skilled players who are fast, can shoot pretty well, can pass, spread offensive court,” Forthoffer said.

Foothill College head men’s basketball coach Matt Stanley has similar experience playing with shorter teams. In his time serving as an assistant coach at Foothill College since 2006, he admits that around the Bay Area, there tend to be fewer taller basketball players.

“We’ve always been traditionally short, not by choice,” Stanley said. “But I would like someone really tall.”

Photo by Sannidhi Menon
Photo by Sannidhi Menon. Design by Akshara Majjiga.

Despite their seemingly shorter size, the Foothill team has been the only program in Northern California to make it to the playoffs for the past seven years. Stanley explains that they’ve achieved this by leaving the taller post players alone and focusing more on movement around the perimeter (the three-point line), similar to MVHS’ five-man rotation.

“You might be able to dribble past them to the basket and be able to force the other team’s hands by taking those good guys out, being quicker,” Stanley said.

It’ll often be a mismatched game for the Matadors. But Forthoffer doesn’t let the team’s size stop them from winning. He emphasizes this starts with players learning to combat their old habits and having the right mindset.

“Patient coaches are losing coaches,” Forthoffer said.

Forthoffer believes coaches should never be light on their players, as it doesn’t give players enough incentive to stay in the game, no matter how tall they are. Whong agrees.

“My mindset for every game is the same,” Whong said. “It is just to stay aggressive, and to just make the right reads for the team to allow us to win.”

Photo essay by Akshara Majjiga.

Also published on ElEstoque.org

Zero shots, zero goals, 90 minutes: El Estoque takes on varsity practices

Weight on my shoulders

 My abilities lie pretty far outside the realm of sports, so I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this. I found out some sports ran four miles a week and weight trained regularly, and I hadn’t ran a mile since freshman year. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to the experience of joining the wrestling team for conditioning.

Walking into the weight room, I spotted Justin Yu, the strength and training coach, who first sent us on a warm up run. OK, this isn’t too bad,” I thought. “Just like 9th Grade PE, right?”

Wrong. Taking a PE class freshman year does not prepare you for an actual practice.

Justin explained Sumo Deadlifts, an exercise where  you do your best sumo wrestler imitation and try to lift a weighted bar at the same time, and a set of Box Jumps would be first in the workout. I watched apprehensively as others lifted 100, 110 and upwards of 120 pounds. I, on the other hand, was unsure if I could lift the 45-pound bar.

The main reason I didn’t play a lot of sports as a kid wasn’t because I didn’t like working out or found sports boring. I was born with  an atrial septal defect, a 26-milimeter hole in my heart, which significantly handicapped my athletic abilities. My parents knew I would never be an Olympic athlete and steered me in other directions. I got the hole closed recently, and after a year of no physical activity, I was, I’ll admit, a little eager to find out what I could do.

I finally spotted someone lifting 65 pounds and decided I would start there. I spread my feet, pulled the bar up, and was surprised. OK. My arms aren’t falling off. My back hasn’t broken. This isn’t as bad as I thought.” Famous last words. Justin told me to straighten my back and lift the bar straight up, a modification that made the seemingly easy exercise much harder.

On my second round of the circuit, I couldn’t find anyone lifting 65 pounds. Instead, I saw the same person who lifted 65 before now lifting 109. As I struggled to remove the excess weight from the bar, Justin came up to me again. “I want you to try it first,” he said. So I stopped trying to remove the weight and picked up the bar. WOAH.  I can actually lift this.” For now.

As the set wore on, my form got worse and worse, so by the end, I began to feel dizzy and faint.

“Maybe I should have eaten more than just a bag of potato chips for lunch. What would happen if I just fainted right here? Would I hit my head on a weight and die? Would I be taken off this story and not have to do this anymore?” I decided to keep going. Thankfully, by the third set, we were out of time and it was on to the next circuit.

We continued working for another half hour, and then the wrestlers went out for a run before practice. I left them to it and stumbled home instead.

The next two days were similar to the first. Because of my pre-existing condition, I only joined the team for conditioning, and didn’t practice with them. But I was surprised at how manageable the workout was. My initial eagerness to find out what my new self could do soon melted into admiration. I had never been able to experience my body performing at full capacity, and wrestling conditioning gave me a unique opportunity to do so.

So what did I learn from this experience? That many of my classmates put in lots of time and effort to train for their sports. That many of those same people were like me, and couldn’t even lift the bar at first. But with time, they worked their way up to weights that I didn’t think were humanly possible.

Technical difficulties

Every Persian man seems to love playing and watching soccer; unfortunately for me, I never really understood the obsession. My father, uncles and even my brother enjoy both playing and watching the beautiful game,î but after my first experiences playing soccer as a child, I grew to dislike the sport and have never really played it since. As a proper Persian man, I decided to give soccer one last chance, and see if the mystics of the beautiful game could attract me so I could finally make my forefathers proud.

I chose to participate in a series of soccer practices, but since I was unfortunately not cleared to play, I had to settle for the next best thing. I asked a few soccer players to walk me through a normal practice, but most of them flaked, and I had to settle for only one player, junior Sarin Gole. Since it had been years since the last time I played soccer, I didn’t expect much of myself. Also, being really out of shape, I expected to die while conditioning.

The first drill we did was shooting; the first shot I took on goal sailed about a foot above the top: enough power, but no technique. This shot  foreshadowed how the entire practice would go. I had the strength to do many of the drills, but the skill required was completely beyond my abilities. I had a feeling that making my forefathers proud of my actions would be  much more difficult than I originally expected.

Later on we got to the part of practice I was least looking forward to: conditioning. Sarin said I would be doing liners from the end line to the 40 yard line. When he said this it brought me back to my football playing time, when the coaches would make you run in the heat with 20 pounds of extra gear on you, constricting your breathing and making you hate living. But the soccer conditioning was not like this. I felt free. I could breathe easy ó for about 20 seconds, that is, until my body remembered it hadn’t run at all in at least a year. It soon turned to a very unpleasant experience, but thankfully ended quickly.

The single most surprising part of the entire practice was how easy heading the ball was. I expected that hitting a soccer ball with your head would both be difficult and painful, but it oddly enough it wasn’t. Whenever Sarin threw the ball towards me, I could with reasonable accuracy, head the ball right back to him. At this point in the practice I was feeling good about myself. I lived through the conditioning and what I thought would be the hardest drill of the day. Little did I know the beautiful game had more challenges to throw at me.

The technique and flexibility required to control the ball and shoot are singularly the most difficult things I tried doing the entire day. Oftentimes the ball would be floating in the air and I, being about as flexible as a fencepost, simply would not have the flexibility in the hip to make contact with the ball. Even if I made contact, actually making the ball go where I wanted took much more technique than I had.

As a whole, the practice wasn’t the most physically difficult thing I’ve ever done, but the techniques needed to be at all effective were thoroughly out of my grasp. My family would have been disappointed at my performance, but I did gain a new respect for the technical abilities of all soccer players. As of today I am still alone, as the only Persian man with no love for soccer.

Back to the blacktop

It’s kind of ironic how good I was feeling about myself when I stepped onto the cracked blacktop of Kennedy MS. I’m a wrestler, and the last time I played anything even close to basketball was when we took Thanksgiving practice off to play mat ball. Mat ball involves running into people in a confined wrestling room until nobodies moving and the ball has been smashed into some corner of the room. Basketball does not have those same rules, and yet I was still feeling cocky.

     Growing up, pickup basketball games were the beginning and end of my athletic career. So unique and one of a kind right? I know, I’m special like that. But for most of childhood I was convinced that I was just an inch away from dunking on that 10 foot tall hoop at Garden Gate Elementary. When we had to pick a sport to go hopelessly fail at in the name of all that is journalism, I figured I could leave the wrestling, and unleash my inner NBA player.

     Wrestling, if you’re listening, I’m so sorry I thought I could leave you for basketball. Please save me from those ball handling drills and bleacher workouts. Please, please, please and thank you.

I was wearing a snowboarding camp t-shirt and running shoes when I met senior Ron Talmor and sophomore Akshay Gopalkrishnan for the first day of my supposed rise to athletic stardom. I picked up the rebound off of one of Akshay’s shots, but when I put it up, I saw it leave my hands and fall to the ground without even hitting the rim. Airball.

In all fairness, I wasn’t horrible. I’d credit my wonderful coaches Akshay and Ron for all the sprints and liners that put me on the floor wheezing for breath, but it didn’t go beyond that for me. My shooting form was horrid. My dribbling was somehow even worse. And when we started to work on the subtle things like footwork, I really started to miss the unsubtle, run into ’em until they stop squirming moves from the wrestling mat. But I was trying my hardest to just beat the odds and be better than the extremely low standard I had been setting for myself  all my life.

I stopped playing pickup basketball around middle school, right around the time I failed to make the fifth round of tryouts. I hit my growth spurt since then and shed all my baby weight. And while I had stopped jiggling with every step, going back to the basketball court still hit me with reality: my time on the courts has been over for a long while. No more playing for fun. Now I see basketball practice going from a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon, to a high-stakes practice every day.

The second day of practice helped soften the fish out of water feeling. We went to the MVHS upper field, because now it was time to work off the ball. After all, how can you make the shots that you practiced if your muscles cant even last long enough for you to shoot the ball? I ran sprints and then squatted,  déjà vu of wrestling practice and football practice and eventually I fell into that familiar rhythm of Yeah, this sucks and I cant feel my legs. But at least I’ve done this before.” Then my coaches had me go run bleachers.

I’ve been terrified of bleachers ever since I can recall. I can remember working out on them twice in my life, and once again it was far too late to get comfortable with them. I practically crawled up the metal spikes, and clung onto the railing on the way back down. Forget those years and endless hours I’ve put into snowboarding, wrestling and even the pickup games of basketball. I still look at bleachers and tremble sometimes. But by the end of that workout, I was finally looking down at Akshay and Ron at the top of the world on those bleachers. I didn’t get any faster right then and there, but those bleachers did get a lot less scary.

All it took was three days. I flashed back to time spent playing pickup basketball on the cracked asphalt in front of my house,  almost as if that part of my life was nothing but a dream. I was happy with how bad at basketball I was, because being a beginner shields you from that sort of self-judgement. It took three days, but now I cant think of a single thing wrong with becoming a beginner again.