December 17, 2022 4 min read 2 Comments
By Ray Glier
Sandy Garner, 63, can bond on the volleyball court with women she just met, or maybe met just this year. She is not picky about who she plays with, as long as it is women and it is facing a women’s volleyball net (7 feet, 4 1/8 inches compared to the men’s 7-11 5/8s).
The guys can be show offs, she said, and the height of their net makes the game less fun at 63.
The 6-foot Garner, a P.E. teacher in Daytona Beach, Fla., is here to have fun…and win.
“When I'm out there,” she said, “I don't feel like the 63-year old that I am. And I like playing competitively again.”
The river of time cannot squash the raw materials Garner brings to the game: joy and intensity. Sandy has also high jumped and pole vaulted in the senior games, but there is usually a conflict with volleyball, so she sticks with the net game.
She took a 28-year break from her own athletics to help raise a family and now she’s back. Her ego is not holding on to Garner, like a ball-and-chain keeping her from the game, like some others. She’s ok with a hop into the air, not a jump. Garner still has a relatively powerful serve—her calling card in volleyball these days—but she doesn’t lament the skills she no longer has. She shrugs and has fun.
This is a Geezer Jock story about being back in the game.
Garner was a star at Memphis State University (now University of Memphis) where she led the Tigers’ volleyball team to a school-record 41 wins in 1980. She was All-Metro Conference and an All-American nominee and was invited to the USA Olympic Training Center.
Last Saturday at the Florida State Senior Games, Garner’s team, Beaches, finished third in the combined seven-team tournament of teams 55-59 and 60-64.
There is nothing downbeat for Garner about playing at 63, even though she can no longer get half her neck and head above the net. Sandy still gets the adrenaline rush and the game is all pure glee, especially when she serves. All of Garner’s serves—100 percent—went to other side and forced opponents to make a play, or not, and aces piled up.
“I try to hit it hard, I don't go back there just to try to keep it in play,” Garner said. “I didn't miss a serve.”
Not that Garner doesn’t have challenges, 41 years after college. In one sequence, Garner strained to get her hands above the net for a block and the ball went off her finger tips and landed behind her.
On another play, a ball between her and a teammate smacked to the floor. A younger Garner would have made a dive to keep the ball in the air and keep the point going.
She has made a compact with age, though, which is to feel like a youngster again, but play with the restraint of a 63-year old.
“Maybe 10 years ago I would have dove for the ball,” she said.
Ten years ago she did dive for a ball. She kept the point alive. A teammate, another older woman, hustled over and said, “Honey, you don't have to do that because we're gonna win anyway.”
She dove for another ball about 10 years ago at The Huntsman World Senior Games, but the result wasn’t so heroic. She seriously injured her shoulder and had to go back and forth with the medical profession (of course) to get it fixed.
“Get second opinions,” she says as advice to Geezer Jocks with ambition to dive.
Garner has enough respect for her limits not to just show up and play. She mows grass around her neighborhood for Yardio, a more productive form of cardio. That grass mowing is year-round in Florida and she includes five neighbors’ yards in her rounds. There is a maintenance outfit, but Garner wants it cut better, like the greens on the golf course she lives next to.
“I can't get it all done in one day,” she said. “So it’s good exercise over several days throughout the week.”
What is a real chore is scaring up enough women for a game. While the Florida State senior games had the most teams in the older age groups it has ever had (7), it was spread out over 55-59 and 60-64.
Latitude Margaritaville opened a 55-and-older community in Daytona Beach and Garner tried to rally some support for volleyball, indoor and beach. She received no calls back from the community leadership.
“There are some people that can play volleyball, but they won't get back with me,” she said. “I have left emails and phone calls and I've gone over there to their sales office left flyers.
“I know there are players in the area.”
There are players galore in the U.S. The NCAA made volleyball an official championship sport in 1981, the season after Garner last played at Memphis, so there is a pipeline. The game took off collegiately 20 years ago where it was no longer the coastal schools producing talent. Garner figures those players are still busy with families and careers.
She will keep the light on them, one ace at a time.
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