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The Observer Jan. 27

by and

The new sports complex in Springdale was bustling Saturday with girls volleyball, dozens of teams from all over playing on seven courts from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Volleyball is big these days, and The Observer thinks television’s decision to broadcast the entire beach volleyball lineup at the Olympics last summer may have something to do with it. (It was the athletes’ “uniforms,” one suspects — those famously skimpy bikinis about half the size of everyday undergarments — that prompted the wall-to-wall coverage.) Amateur volleyball girls dress more modestly than their sisters on the sand, but their skin-tight short shorts reveal more than any other women’s sport outside swimming. (Well, maybe Serena Williams’ tennis outfits are in competition.) But it’s their play, not their dress, that gets the attention: These tall, slim girls were jumping 4 feet off the ground to block their opponents’ spikes — make that bouncing, since they did it at every volley. They’re athletic as all get-out and an inspiration to watch. It turns out the new arena, not surprisingly, given its Northwest Arkansas location, looks after its patrons’ needs for spiritual betterment as well as court space. The stalls in the ladies’ room were hung with posters reminding a somewhat captive audience that all are sinners and Jesus saves. More information, the posters said, could be had at the front desk. Once upon a time, one could go to a sporting event and not be preached at. It made us wonder — if the Olympic athletes hadn’t worn those teeny-weeny bikinis, would beach volleyball have been televised 24-7? And if the game hadn’t gotten so much attention, would there be this increased interest in it? And without the heightened interest in volleyball would the arena have been filled to the brink Saturday, thus sending hundreds of girls to the ladies’ room? Was this proof that God works in mysterious ways? Probably not this time. Few are inspired by words on bathroom stalls. The Observer ran into her first- grade teacher a couple of weeks ago. First grade was a long time ago for The Observer, but you don’t forget your first- grade teacher. Your first-grade teacher, on the other hand, has seen lots of kids come and go. Last she saw us, we were under four feet tall, had buck teeth and were wearing a cotton dress with a Peter Pan collar and a petticoat that our mother refused to starch so it didn’t stand out like the popular girls’ petticoats did. Rose Berry, who, given her good looks, must have been a mere child when she taught us, smiled broadly at The Observer. She doesn’t wince when students of yore come up to say hello, because she’s kept records on every child she ever taught. She could look me up, she said, find out who my parents were, etc. She said she would. In the mail two days later came a big yellow envelope containing photocopies of her 1958-59 first grade class, a list of students she’d made in longhand 45 years ago and a program of the 12-act “Forest Park Big Top, ‘The Greatest Show on Earth,’ ” performed Friday, April 24, 1959. How could we have forgotten our role as “band member”? Though we can’t tell you what we did yesterday, we can tell you that in 1959, Forest Park Elementary School, south of Cantrell (then two lanes) and east of University (then called Hayes Street), had a huge tree on its playground. We played around its roots, in that crunchy kind of dirt that’s perfect to draw in. The playground had bike racks; The Observer parked her green Schwinn there. You could ride home for lunch if you wanted. Milk and cookies were served an hour or so after the bell rang, and lunch was 25 cents. The principal was named Mrs. Tunnah, and in typical mean-kid way, we called her 10-ton Tunnah. She never used the Board of Education on us, but it was in her office. The “Big Top” program confirmed that even in first grade, the popular girls were already getting all the attention. While The Observer was a mere anonymous “band member,” that saucy red-head Kristin Agar and the blonde and beautiful Barry Gray got to be both “the daring bareback riders” and “the ballerinas.” We had forgotten the small details of our class, so thanks, Dr. Berry, for reminding us of Susan Baker and her big thick braids; of Jimmy Jay Peterson (aka “the ringmaster”); how good John Miller looked in a bow tie, and that some former elementary school teachers like to remember, rather than forget, their pupils.

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