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Strong Like Teen Spirit


I am watching my daughter and her teammates play in the final match of the city’s volleyball playoffs. The gymnasium bleachers are packed. It is standing room only. The energy is intense. “This crowd is so hype!” I text my friend (I am a middle-aged mother, but I make no apologies for sounding like a teenager in text). The gym smells like teen spirit. It is infectious. The host school, chosen primarily for its high-ceilinged gym, does not have a team in the final round, so the people who pack the bleachers—parents and friends and siblings—are evenly divided, here to cheer for one side or the other. The crowd participation is remarkably hostile. When a young teen from the opposing team goes to serve, we stamp our feet on the bleachers. Someone has brought an airhorn and blasts it just as she raises her arms. Their supporters do the same for our players.

You’d think this match was for something of real consequence. But in fact, it is simply a match of 14- and 15-year-old girls competing for nothing more than school pride. And they are proud. In defiance of the crowd’s attempts to psych her out, the young teen serving the ball is entirely composed. She doesn’t acknowledge the jeers, the rumble of stomping feet, or the airhorn. She bounces the ball twice, holds it up, and hits it…

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