I watched her dump the volleyball into the net for about the fifth time that game. I put on my frozen smile—which by now likely looked similar to the Joker’s—and clapped encouragingly. I waited for it. I knew it was coming. There, from the top row of the bleachers it came raining down, “Good effort, Kendra!”
I played on a traveling volleyball team for the better part of my youth. Truth be told, I had some talent. Unfortunately, talent only got you so far in my volleyball world. What I had for talent I was lacking in last name, relation and financials. I was also a little chubby. Maybe that was it? We played on a team called Lightening. There were three teams in this particular age group in this particular club. Lightening was the middle talent team after Thunder. I maintain to this day that a few of us should’ve been on Thunder but whatever. Politics of youth sports—what can ya do? There was a girl on my team named Kendra*. She was not one of the people that probably should’ve been on Thunder.
Looking back at how the teams were stacked, I’m wondering if it was just an age thing for us girls at the time. You were either good or you weren’t. In-between didn’t really exist. Thunder was good. I can’t even remember the other team name—Cloud? Rain? Hail? I don’t know, but they, well, weren’t. Lightening was a mix of people who should’ve been on Thunder and people who should’ve been on third team I can’t remember. That made for a mess of a team. So there I was with my frozen smile, internally screaming at Kendra because I had no clue why the heck she was even thinking she could’ve hit the ball that she took away from Emily. And all the time that voice, “Good effort, Kendra!”
Why do some people have such a lasting impact on us? I have boyfriends who left less of an impression on me than she did. It wasn’t because we were bosom buddies. We were two very strong personalities. I may have also accidentally chuckled when she sprained her ankle. That was actually rotten of me but I remember it clear as day. She went up to hit a ball—pass, set, Kendra jumped (maybe an inch off the ground) spiked it directly into the net (which was to be expected) and came down. Next thing I know, she’s on the ground screaming. Kendra had a loud voice. I didn’t mention that. You know people who have loud voices and then people who have loud voices. Hers was the latter. Anyway, we learned that her loud voice also translated into a loud crier. Screaming. Screeching. Some kind of dying animal cry. When I looked over at her, I was expecting to see bone coming out of her skin it sounded so bad (it was a minor sprain). Her dad, taking two stairs at a time, came leaping down to carry her off the court because she couldn’t even get up to hop off with our help. It was just too much. I chuckled. It’s terrible. I don’t wish pain upon anyone. But I chuckled, so there’s my confession. I’m sorry Kendra.
It got to the point that Kendra was super reliable for being unreliable during games. At thirteen I wasn’t ok with losing games. You know how you get put on a group project with a C student when you are a straight A student? Suddenly, your entire grade depends on this person magically bringing his or her “A” game? So naturally you just take over everything and tell them you got it? Or was that just me? Maybe that’s why the checkbox for “works well in groups” was always a zero on my report cards? The point was, that was the unreliable feeling driving me crazy during games.
I wanted to play the sport moving into high school and I was highly competitive. I’m also the type of person that when I make a mistake, I want to acknowledge it and try to find out what I did wrong so I can improve on it. Kendra was not that person. She was a it’s-all-just-for-fun-this-doesn’t-matter-participation-trophy-kind of person. So were her parents. After every single error her dad would shout from the rafters between cupped hands, “Good effort, Kendra!” I kid you not, after every single mistake. Missed serve. Good effort. Whiffs the pass. Good effort. Dives for a ball that’s five feet away. Good effort. Good effort, good effort, good effing effort. If hashtags were a thing back then, his would’ve been #goodeffortkendra…on a t-shirt. To make it even worse, he started thinking he could good effort me anytime I made a mistake. No, no Mr. Hawkins* it was not a good effort. It was a terrible serve that I missed and should’ve made. Don’t you start good efforting me! I never said that to him—but I thought it. My parents understood. They weren’t good effort type people either. The first time he said it, I think my mom said something like, “Well it wasn’t really. She should’ve made that serve.” God bless moms for knowing you to your core. For two seasons I lived through the good efforts. Two trying, painful seasons I was haunted by them.
All sarcasm and joking aside—these were good people. I have nothing against them and I appreciate they were so supportive of their daughter. We were just very, very different. I mean, I just watched Tia play basketball the other day and there are the really nice, good effort moms and then lunatics like myself yelling for her to focus on the ball and stop waving at Payton. So neither is right nor wrong and we are all, quite frankly, just doing the best we can. I get that now Mr. Hawkins. Totally. Little did you know that after all these years, “Good effort, Kendra” is a staple term in my family.
A few years after I hung up my volleyball spandex shorts, I was playing tennis and totally missed a shot. Laughing at the folly (tennis ended up being my sport), my dad yelled down, “Good effort, Kendra” and I busted a gut. It stuck. I mean, stuck. Mom makes a homemade lemon pie that resembled lemon soup? Good effort, Kendra. Kurtis falls out of the penalty box at a playoff game? Good effort, Kendra. Lauren plans an epic dinner and a family fight breaks out? Good effort, Kendra. Friend hits a terrible golf shot? Good effort, Kendra. Friend looks at us, confused, who’s Kendra? She asks. Months later, she’s saying it to other friend who hits a bad shot. I mean, people in my circle hear this phrase often—likely without a clue as to where it came from or who it’s referring to. But it lives on…and I think of her. I think of thirteen-year-old Kendra and me playing volleyball on our mediocre team. I don’t have a clue where she is these days or how her parents are doing. I do, however, look back fondly on those days. Somehow, that loud-voiced little girl and her effort-loving father have managed to be a part of my life for the last twenty some years. And with each folly in my life or that of anyone around me, their legacy lives on—good effort, Kendra. Good effort.