My little sister stood up from a row of chairs at the other side of the gym, moved the clipboard from her lap to underneath her arm and clapped her hands.
“Good work. Good job,” I could hear her say as she was quickly surrounded by seventh-grade girls in shorts, sneakers and ponytails, hoping for some advice on how to get that volleyball over the net and catch up on the scoreboard after the time-out.
I handed popcorn to my nephew sitting beside me on the bleachers and looked at my big sister and mom, who had come to watch Little Sister do her thing.
“I bet she’s so good at this,” I said to Big Sister.
“How cute is she?” Big Sister said to me.
“I’m so nervous,” said our mother, who, in typical fashion, had already begun to show signs of her competitive side.
We’d only been there 20 minutes, but Mom couldn’t help it. Who would have thought watching her youngest daughter coach a junior high volleyball team would send her into flashbacks of sitting in the bleachers cheering on her teenage daughter as the Watford City Wolves’ trip to state hung in the balance of one successful serve.
My mother was on the edge of her seat as her daughter’s seventh-graders broke their huddle and hit the floor.
A skinny girl with a big smile and blue tennis shoes stood behind the serving line holding the volleyball, hoping for an ace, or, maybe more accurately, just to get it over the net this time for the love of spaghetti.
Maybe I was just projecting because now I was starting to sweat, having my own flashback to what it felt like to be that gangly girl not so sure how to be in control of my limbs and pretty nervous about that ball smacking me in my braces-filled mouth.
I think Big Sister was having the same flashback, judging by the way she reacted when a wayward ball headed our way.
Needless to say, the right sister was there on the bench with that team.
Because the woman there clapping her hands and calling huddles, directing hitters to jump and the team to work together, seemed to be made for this.
This is the third year Little Sister has been a part of the school system in our county, and it seems coming back to her hometown to teach, and now, to counsel and coach, has proven more adventurous than she could have imagined.
See, our hometown added on to its small elementary school last year, and with it came a new gym, library, bigger lunchroom and more classrooms to accommodate the now 700-plus students, a number that’s up 122 (and growing) from last year and includes students from 48 states and 20 foreign countries.
And because every day more parents are making plans to move their students here, we’ve already outgrown that brand-new addition.
Across town, dirt is being moved to clear a spot for a new high school. Across the street a new 200-child daycare facility just opened its doors.
I wouldn’t doubt if there are plans being made for another elementary school, too, because we’re doing what we can to accommodate these families, working hard to stand firm on our long-held belief that good schools and good communities go hand in hand.
And it was quite evident to me that night, watching Little Sister encourage the girls to jump higher and hit harder, that the bricks and mortar of it all is just the first step in years of being there for these kids who have experiences, needs and dreams that reach far beyond the borders of this seemingly borderless town.
On the other side of the gym, Little Sister’s volleyball team shook hands with their opponents. Turns out they didn’t catch up on the scoreboard that night, but that ponytailed girl in blue sneakers got her serve over the net. It’s a small victory in the big and changing world, but a big victory for her
“Good work. Good job …” said Little Sister.
“She’s is good at this,” said Big Sister.
Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. Readers can reach her at email@example.com.