by Leslie Hamann and Jack Hamann
Courtney Thompson pounded a chair.
She was a high school sophomore. Her club team, Kent Juniors, was a national powerhouse. But in a regional Seattle qualifier, Courtney’s team had dropped the first set to Washington Volleyball Academy, with a lineup that included our daughter.
As teams and parents traded sides, we passed behind the Kent Juniors bench. Courtney, a setter, fixed her eyes on her teammates, many of them older and taller. She balled her fist and pounded that chair, announcing, “We are NOT gonna lose to these guys!”
“Wow,” we whispered, “THAT’s a girl we’d want on OUR team.”
In the 14 years since that memorable moment, we’ve heard plenty of people say pretty much the same thing about Courtney. She led her high school to three state championships … her University of Washington team to three Final Fours and a National Championship … her professional club teams to glory.
Courtney’s trophy drawer has an Olympic silver medal and a World Championships gold. She is certain to be among those considered for the 2016 Olympic Games roster in Rio. And through it all, she remains as much of an inspiration to players young and old throughout world as she was to her Kent Juniors teammates that day in Seattle.
When USA Volleyball’s Puget Sound Region learned that Seattle would host the 2013 NCAA Division 1 Women’s Volleyball Championship, it’s directors decided to create some sort of lasting legacy for those who love the sport. They approached us–veteran documentary producers–about making a one-hour video exploring all that volleyball means to players, coaches, parents and fans. We, in turn, immediately thought of Courtney.
Like all world-class volleyball players, Courtney has spent much of her adult life overseas, making a fairly comfortable living as a pro. Although she currently stars for a top-ranked team in Zurich, she was headed to Poland back in 2012 when we approached her about the documentary.
“Sure you can follow me,” she agreed when we suggested filming for a month in Europe. “But you have to agree to come in February.”
When asked why, she was ready. “In February, it’s dark. It’s cold. The season’s been going for months. The holidays are over. Summer’s still a long way away. That’s the time of year when those who really love and understand the game live the volleyball life.”
We call the documentary “Court & Spark,” adopting a Joni Mitchell song title to reflect the spark Courtney brings to the volleyball court. The program’s first half brings viewers to ÅÃ³dÅº, Poland, where Courtney navigates the challenges and rewards of a volleyball-mad town where few speak or understand her language.
The second half brings us to Courtney’s improbable effort to land one of only 12 spots on the USA Olympic roster. Throughout the documentary, we hear from several of Courtney’s USA teammates, plus coaching legends like Karch Kiraly, Hugh McCutcheon, Marv Dunphy and many more.
Most important, Courtney offers extraordinary advice on issues that affect anyone who plays or coaches volleyball: how to deal with parents, how to deal with coaches, how coaches and parents deal with each other, how to handle adversity, how to balance sport with the rest of one’s life. Many who watch “Court & Spark” watch it a second time, and use it as a conversation starter with teammates, coaches and parents at the beginning or end of a season.
On that day back in 2001, Courtney’s Kent Juniors teammates got the message. After a comeback in the second set, they won the decisive third, earning the Regional title. No one celebrated more than Courtney. And no one was more impressed than we were. We still are.
“Court & Spark” the Documentary is available for purchase in the JVA Product Store for only $10 for JVA members (30% discount) and $15 for non-members. For more junior volleyball education and information on becoming a JVA member visit www.jvaonline.org.