Gym class heroes

As I’ve already learned a few times this summer, people like me aren’t made for the beach.

Red hair and freckles makes my skin only slightly more resistant to the sun than that of a vampire, beginning a process that normally leads to a painful burn before making my shoulders look like baklava.

And we haven’t even gotten into what I look like in swim trunks.

Normally, the only way I can make it off the sand with my dignity intact is if a volleyball is involved.

It’s a coping mechanism I’m familiar with, going back to the days in which I wore sweatpants to school multiple days a week.

In elementary school gym class, I was hopeless with a hula hoop, far too uncoordinated for the ‘tumbling unit’ and totally unable to climb the rope. That bell attached to the ceiling may as well have been atop the Empire State Building.

But volleyball? I could do that, well, at least as well as a fifth-grader can do any particular sport. I remember one day watching as the ball flew toward a classmate, who connected perfectly with a right cross of sorts that sent the ball into the net with enough force to stretch it a foot.

One summer many years ago, my dad was dean of Music Camp at Camp Michigamme and I, being too young to be a camper yet, was in need of an assignment. Dad put me to work organizing the Wednesday night volleyball tournament, a job that I ended up carrying until I aged out of being a camper.

To all those from that one year who put up with my system, including randomly selected teams separated out in to the various colors of the rainbow and a double elimination format that started after dinner and still had at least a game or two to go when it got too dark to see, my apologies 15 years overdue.

Other than those who’ve had the comedy experience of watching me run the bases in church league softball, I tend to keep my athletic exploits off the record.

Saturday was a good night, though, and not just because I didn’t hurt myself or others. I might have even earned a complement or two, and goshdarnit, it felt good.

Someone asked me if I was going to write about our five-set thriller that went on past dark. I told them no, but I guess I wasn’t humble enough to be true to my word.

I’ve known for a while my only chance at reaching the grand arenas of sport was with a pen in hand, so when it comes to things like volleyball or church league softball, it’s just for exercise and, in case of writer’s block emergency, light-hearted column material.

Being that the ‘match’ was not officiated or coached and that several of the participants had been at Brewfest earlier in the day, I probably shouldn’t print up any trading cards. My back-to-the-net over-the-shoulder attack might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but if it was even legal, I doubt Coach Twardzik would have approved.

My point is thus – if I can turn 90 minutes playing in the sand into something memorable enough for a column, there’s got to be some activity out there you can excel at. Maybe it’s volleyball or golf or chess or entering your cucumbers in the Houghton County Fair.

Find something you like and excel at it. And if it’s volleyball, bring sunscreen.

Brandon Veale can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at