There's Nothing in the Coaches Manual on this...

About a year ago, a package arrived in the mail for Ellen.  It was a gift from a former player, Jennifer McDowell.  Jenny has made volleyball her life.  After graduating from Plum High School,( and winning the PA state championship in her senior season) Jenny went on to play all four years at the University of Georgia, then Assistant Coach under her Head Coach at Georgia, Sid Feldman.  She accepted the Head Coaching job at Emory University in Atlanta in 1996.  In 16 seasons she has compiled a record of 512-128!  The gift made Ellen very proud!  It was Jenny's first book, a book of creative and competitive volleyball drills.  It would add more weight to the already bulky book bag Ellen carries to practice everyday.  Her backpack is filled with other drill books and handouts from clinics and camps she has attended.  She has made a habit of keeping as much of this accumulated information as that blue book bag can hold.  It must weigh 35lbs!  Add to that the experience gained by someone who has been coaching high school volleyball for 30 years.  Ellen has come up with a few innovations of her own, notably the "Setter's Box" employed to stop Kristy O'Hara from dropping her hands to her sides before and after setting, and the "Wrist Fusion" taping Jordan King's hands together, preventing her from playing balls with one hand.  Both of these inventions worked!  It would seem, Ellen had all the answers.

With all the combined knowledge contained in this hulking bookbag, and three decades of volleyball coaching, one would think there wasn't any question we couldn't answer.  Yet, with the challenges presented in the last four years, and particularly in the last four months, it seems totally insufficient.
How does a team deal with a coach battling cancer?
How do they respond to BOTH coaches in treatment?
How can you help them with their grief when they lose a coach to cancer?
What do you say when a beautiful young teammate is lost in an accident?
Any single one of these instances would derail any team, but all of them?
There's nothing in the coaches manual to help deal with this...

Every year, and I mean every year, we meet our team in the spring for the start of open gyms.  Open gyms are supposed to be where we can reinforce good skill habits, eliminate bad ones, engage in some gameplay, and learn little things about the team and the kids as individuals.  It is during this time, when we bond with these players.  Coaching this sport, and I'm sure most sports is like adding 30 more kids to your own family.  The kids on our team have rallied through the illnesses of their coaches, and they truly have become extensions of our actual families.  Texts and e-mails updating them on treatments and conditions, the ups and downs of what we had on our plate.  As in actual family members there was total disclosure on what was going on.   That's what made the news of late June so very difficult.  We received word, while at team camp at Pitt, that just a few miles down the road at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, our beautiful beloved young Assistant Coach, Jaime Moran, was losing her almost 12 year battle with leukemia.  Breaking this news to the kids was so terrible, but they had to find out from us.  We had to stay together on this.

Jaime left us on August 6th, 2012.  She fought cancer from the age of 14, and now at 26, her body could no longer take the rigors of aggressive treatment.  We gathered the kids at the high school, we talked, and cried, and prayed.  Jaime will leave and indelible mark on these kids.  Her grace, under the most difficult of situations was unmatched.  She showed them courage.  She showed them faith.  Her lessons on this will be with us forever.

I have never had a death in my life like this.  Understand that I made Jaime a priority in my life. .   Her condition, on any given day, dictated my emotions.  I NEVER prayed as fervently for anything in my entire life.  I gave platelets on at least ten occasions, and it helped that Jaime seemed to do well with my platelets.  I tied Jaime's survival to my own daily life.  There wasn't anytime during my day when I wasn't wondering how she was.  The day I met Jaime for the first time, I knew there was something special about her.  She reeled you in with those pretty eyes, and she won you over with that unbelievable smile.  If that wasn't enough(it was for me!) she was as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside.  Jaime was the ONE who I wanted to fight for the most, because I recognized this incredible gift she had, and we needed her HERE.  That's what made her passing most difficult for me.  My faith was severely challenged.

 How could God not see what it is I have?  How could He get this so terribly wrong?  They say that we aren't privy to the plan, but how could this be part of the plan?  It was just unfathomable to me that He ask so much of this particular servant.  I don't think Jaime ever lost faith, but I had.  I talked with so may of my friends about this, consulted my most faith filled friends, and nobody could reach me.  I had no idea, the person who could have helped me the most was near me all along.  Sadly it took losing her to get me back.

Jenna Prusia possessed all of the attributes I have described in Jaime.  Pretty eyes, a winning smile, and personality that matched her outer beauty.  I never knew that while I was hurting so badly over Jaime's death, Jenna prayed for me.  She prayed for all of us, that we might find strength and renewed faith in Jesus.  
That's what makes Jenna's passing so tragic and personal.  I cannot get past the idea that she had to die so young, with so much to give the world.  It hurts so bad to watch her friends and teammates struggle with the emotions of losing someone so special to them.  At the same time, I recognize the lessons in her short life.
I have never seen the kind of INTENSE faith possessed in anyone, let alone a 16 year old.  I believe as the Pastor said, I have never known anyone so assuredly headed to God's right hand.  I also understand that should I be next, can the same thing be said of me?  I've got work to do...

I want to say, to the Prusia's, Jenna's dad Duane and her mom Vicki, her big brother Jared, and her twin sister Ashton, thank you for sharing the journal.  It is an inspiration to me and many others, and has helped us  in dealing with this tragedy.   To her friends and teammates, remind yourselves often of the lessons learned in our shared experiences, and especially in the faith of your dear friend.  She was indeed special!

So where do we go from here, when we can't find the answers we seek in the book bag or coaches manual? 
Maybe we search within ourselves, find a level of faith we didn't know existed.  Maybe we hold close to our friends, talk with them, seek their input.  Maybe we write our own manual or journal as it were, maybe it can someday help others dealing with trouble in their lives.  We have hurdles left to clear, but I assure you, neither Jaime or Jenna would want us to stand around staring at them for too long.  We will clear them together, I have FAITH.

Photo credit to Amy Myers for the incredible picture of Jenna.