Friday, March 4, 2011

The Hughie Daily Memorial Cup

We’re staying with the sports theme today.  I’m posting a reproduction of an article I wrote for “The Talking Drum,” which was our Peace Corps Volunteer quarterly newsletter.  I wrote an article reviewing the “Hughie Daily Memorial Cup” volleyball tournament that we conducted on the last week of our in-country training in Koforidua. 

I probably should provide a little more background for my readers who were not actually with me in Ghana.  First off, when you join the Peace Corps everyone goes through a couple of months of training together.  Typically this training is done “in country”.  In our case we all descended on a boarding school in Koforidua, a large town in the Southern part of Ghana.  It was generally a fun time, and it was a great opportunity to get to know all of the other volunteers before we all got shipped off to hither and yon to go and serve. 

Now Hughie Daily was a fellow Peace Corps trainee, an older gentleman, a fiery rascal, a real slice of life.  He may have been insane.  But we loved Hughie for his ranting ways, and although he was crazy, we were genuinely very sad when he decided that Ghana just wasn’t for him and went back home.  As I recall, Hughie didn’t get sick or anything.  Maybe he got into a fight or something?  Consult the journal!  And once again, my journal disappoints, although it does mention when Hughie went back to the States:

“Aug 13 [1993]”
“Well we lost Hugh Daily today – ET’d – “How the hell should I know” – he really made me laugh, and I do miss the bastard!”  (“How the hell should I know” was Hughie’s catch-phrase)

And that was it!  Oh, and ET’d means “Early Terminated”; that’s the term used to describe someone who leaves before their two-year service is complete.  In retrospect the term sounds so severe!  YOU ARE EARLY TERMINATEED.  GUH-GUH-GUH-GUH-GUH-GUH-GUH.

Well in honor of Hughie, who truly was one of a kind, the volunteer trainees who were still there staged a rousing volleyball tournament in his honor, and here is my account of the day.  I think I was attempting a subtle parody of sports writing with my article.  Oh, and the reason I was not playing is that I was quite ill at the time, how fun for me!

So without further delay, I present:

The Hughie Daily Memorial Cup

S. E. D. Wins Hughie Daily Memorial Cup Volleyball Tournament

The last Sunday of Service Training 1993 was the perfect setting for the First Annual Hughie Daily Memorial Cup Volleyball Tournament.  It was a fierce, muddy, desperate contest that pitted four hungry teams against each other.  All three volunteer sectors were represented, and a Ghanaian National team took the field as a wild card.  The Small Enterprise Development (SED), Education (ED), and Rural Development (RD) teams each eyed the other warily across the pitch.  Each team was desperate to claim the cup, but only one would hoist the cup on this humid field of glory today.

The SED team emerged victorious from the tournament, and brought the memorial cup – a calabash with two enormous goat horns affixed to it – back to their Assistant Peace Corps Director (APCD) Eddie.  In case you missed this historic and heroic competition on September 5th, a brief account follows.

The Hughie Daily Memorial Cup was a thrilling exhibition of volleyball skill.  All four of the teams played hard, but some teams fared better than others.  The RD team, under the stately leadership of Sachu Constantine, failed somehow to win a single game.  “We collapsed!”  Sachu lamented shortly after the tournament, “we #*!@ing collapsed!”

“We went into the tournament on Sunday as the top seed,” he continued, “but injuries and difficulties in getting the correct personnel on the court hindered us.”  For the record, Sachu played in all three games for RD.

Perhaps the defining moment for this RD team was the final play of their second game, against Eddie’s SED team.  RD had already lost their game so they had to win to stay in the hunt for the cup.  It was game point, and Mark Pankoff was set to receive Mike Spingler’s trademark satellite serve.  As Mark tells it, “The ball was way high in the air.  I was going to hit it, but then I thought oh #*!@, it’s going out!  So I tried to jump out of the way at the last second…” but he slipped, and the ball hit him right in the chest and fell to the ground, losing the game for RD and knocking them out of contention for the title.

Amy Kargl, Mark’s teammate, adamantly denied that Mark “threw” the game by his actions.  “He tried.  He really tried.”  She explained, “he just couldn’t get his big body out of the way.”

So RD failed to take the cup this year, losing in spectacular fashion.  But what about next year?  Sachu, for one, has great expectations for the future.  “We’re definitely a team for the 90s,” he predicted, “a dynasty in the making.”  Confident talk there from the captain of the team that failed to win a single game.  Plans include more rigorous training – including a strict athlete’s diet of Club beer and kabobs.  Perhaps next year they will be up to par with the SED, ED, and Ghanaian teams.

Eddie’s SED team and Madeleine’s ED team played each other in the first game of the tournament.  It was a preview of things to come.  The SED team, led by the “Tremendous Tamale Two” – Jim Halsted and Mike ‘Split’ Spingler – played ‘smash-mouth’ volleyball:  an in-your-face, emotional, powerful  game.  This contrasted sharply with the ED team’s more cerebral style.  Led by the fearsome “Koforidua Skyline” front court of Stacie Wikman, Tim Dorpinghaus, and Chip Laitinen, ED was a finely-tuned volleyball winning maching.  Efficient and skilled, they were a quiet, deadly force.

Ed was too much for SED in the first match, defeating them in a close game.  “We planned to lose,” commented Mike Spingler, “to make [the ED team] overconfident.”  Angela Thoemke, a player from the ED team, say things differently:  “That first game was won by our superior skill.  Did you see [SED] out there?  They weren’t playing as a team.”

SED, after losing their first game, faced an uphill climb to the finals through the relegation bracket.  But they rose to the occasion.  IN their second match the disposed of the RD team in the gritty and thrilling match won on Split’s remarkable satellite serve into Mark’s chest.  Next they defeated the youthful talented Ghanaian team, whose penchant for chaos seemed to trip them up just when they seemed to be getting the upper hand.

The ED team finished off the Ghanaian and ED teams, demolishing them with wicked clothesline serves and textbook spikes.  So it was inevitable – SED vs. ED in the best-of-three finals.

Obviously ED was the favorite.  “They’re unstoppable,” confided Buffy Cashel, “they haven’t lost a game yet!”  ED did look strong – but there were some surprises in store on this day of the cup.

Just before the finals it began to rain.  During the tropical deluge Scott Slusher, the event’s sponsor, took some time and gave a moving and inspirational reading from Hughie’s letter.  When the rain subsided and play was resumed, it was on a court now slippery with soft mud.

The new conditions worked against the ED team.  “That was the team’s downfall,” commented Jon Hester, a thoughtful observer, “They looked kind of lost out there.” 

But perhaps ED was also startled by the appearance of two of their own ED volunteers on the SED team for the finals.  Dave Lathrop and Lisa Theece, two formidable and highly competent volleyball players – and Education volunteers, not Small Enterprise Development volunteers – were recruited by Jim during the rain delay to join the SED team.

Whether it was the weather, or the new and improved SED lineup, ED struggled against SED’s attack, losing two matches in a row and conceding the cup to SED.  Eddie’s SEd team was awarded the cup and declared the tournament champions, but the victory was not without some measure of controversy. 

Angela agreed that the rain hampered her team’s effort in the finals, but she attributed the loss more to juju than to superior play by SED: “somehow they used juju to make it rain – knowing that it would hurt our style of play more.”

Mike’s analysis of the finals was predictably different:  “it was team players against a bunch of individuals.  We played as a unit – out motivating factory was to honor Hughie Daily.”  The juju claim, he said, was “too stupid to even comment upon.”

Then there was the question surrounding the legality of having ED ‘ringers’ on the SED team for the finals.  According to Jon Hester, who questioned the legality of the ringers, “Dave and Lisa made a definite positive impact [on the SED team’s performance].”  Mark Pankoff was less diplomatic about the whole affair:  “I think the presence of the ringers makes the victory null and void.”

Did this take anything away from SED’s victory?  “No, it didn’t – it enhanced our win.  And,” Mike observed, “if [Dave and Lisa] were so good, why did [ED] let them off their team?”

Additionally there was the controversy surrounding Jim Halstead’s yellow card.  Sachu, who officiated the finals, administered a yellow card to Jim for, as he saw it, “excessive whining.”  Jim for his part refused to accept the official punishment of a slide in the mud.

“That call was ridiculous,” according to Mike.  “Sach has the biggest mouth – I’m glad we shut him up.”  Angela, of course, disagreed:  “The whole brutality of the situation was that the ref’s authority was challenged.  We felt cheated.”

However, after their second and final defeat, members of the ED team vindicated themselves to an extent by tackling Jim and dragging him through the mud.  Was justice served?  “We don’t encourage that kind of vigilantism – but”, Sachu explained, “Jim got what he deserved.”

Observers generally agreed that SED’s violations were not sufficient to strip them from the title, so the memorial cup was presented to Eddie’s SED team in a spirited ceremony.  SED looks forward to defending the title next year, while Eddie proudly displays the cup in his office, and Steve and Madeleine seethe with envy.

And what, by the way, might Hughie Daly, the very inspiration for this event, have to say about it?  In the words of the great man himself, “HOW THE HELL WOULD I KNOW!”

Well wherever you are Hughie, I hope you’re doing well.  And I wonder whatever happened to that calabash with the goat horns attached to it?

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