Teamwork: Worthington women call it quits after 30 years of playing volleyball
WORTHINGTON -- Last week, some of the members of The Eldas played their last volleyball league match at the Worthington Area YMCA. It was a playoff match, and they didn't advance, but the women left the court with a feeling of accomplishment.
"We lost, but it was respectable, so we don't feel bad," said Pat Henkels.
For four members of the team -- Henkels, Kim Kuechenmeister, Sue Steffl and Mary Viessman -- it was the end of three decades of teamwork. Other women have rotated in and out of the team during that time, but the four women have been its anchors for 30 continuous years.
The idea of having a team was broached during a 1983 conversation between Viessman and Steffl as they sat on the sidelines of another sporting event.
"From what I remember, we were at a fast-pitch (softball) tournament," recalled Viessman, her memory corroborated with a nod from Steffl. "Our husbands were playing, and we started talking about starting a team.
"I remember running into you and asking, 'Do you want to play volleyball?'" Viessman continued, addressing Kuechenmeister.
None of the three had played volleyball in high school, except maybe in a physical education class, but Steffl's sister-in-law, Kathy Steffl Vaske, who was already in the league, offered to give them pointers. And they were soon joined by Henkels, who had played volleyball as a high school senior.
"We would actually practice one night a week and play one night a week," said Kuechenmeister. "We got better, too. When we started, I had no idea how to set or bump. ... I was scared to death when we started. I was sure I was going to die."
Initially, the team was sponsored by The Pub, a small establishment conveniently located across the street from the downtown YMCA. Later, they had support from Worthington Regional Hospital. When the medical center was sold a few years ago, they decided to sponsor themselves and settled on an unusual team name -- The Eldas.
"When we first started, we used to play against a team that was a bunch of teachers, and one of the teachers was Elda Lovik," recalled Henkels, referring to a former Worthington High School English teacher. "We were in our 20s, and we thought they were soooo old back then. So when we had to come up with a team name, we started talking about how we are now them --only we are even older than they were!"
"I bet now we're probably 10 years older than they were," injected Kuechenmeister.
"So, we decided, let's call ourselves The Eldas," continued Henkels. "Then, during one of our games, we were getting creamed by some young kids, and Kim said, 'Don't they know they're supposed to respect their Eldas?' So we put that on the back of our shirts."
On the front of the shirts is another team slogan: "The Eldas. We've got some time to kill. Just not much."
Most people don't realize the significance of the team name --they just think it's a word play on the senior status of its members, who now range in age from 48 to 54. But the name is also intended to convey respect for that team they played against so many years ago.
"I remember that someone we played against was 40 years old, and I remember thinking, 'I hope I'm still playing when I'm 40,'" remembered Henkels.
The women's volleyball league usually starts in November and ends with the playoffs in February. This year, there were eight teams in the league, and The Eldas ended their season with a record of 12-18.
"Sometimes I think our husbands were embarrassed, thinking we should hang it up," said Henkels. "But my kids were always supportive, as long as we weren't getting skunked. It's our night out."
Because they enjoy the social aspect of the weekly games as well as the physicality of the endeavor, The Eldas also play in a sand volleyball league during the warm weather months. They hope to continue playing sand volleyball if it is available this year.
"I think we started playing sand volleyball the first year they had it at the Long Branch," said Steffl. "We did both the women's and the co-ed leagues."
The sand version, they say, is a bit more forgiving on their bodies and not quite as competitive.
"I love it because I like to dive for the ball, and you can do that without getting hurt," said Henkels. "I'll play that forever --well, until we start getting killed."
"You have more abrasions, but fewer broken bones," said Steffl with a laugh.
During their 30 years of play, however, there haven't been any such broken bones -- and relatively few injuries.
"Kim sprained her ankle pretty bad one time, and so did I," noted Steffl.
"I ran into Pat and put her neck out for a couple of years," confessed Kuechenmeister.
"It still shows up on X-rays," said Henkels, rubbing her neck.
The women first discussed quitting the YMCA volleyball league about two years ago, but when they realized how close they were to the 30-year milestone, they decided to stick it out for a couple more seasons.
When they started the team, they either had very young children or hadn't started their families yet. Now, two of the women have grandchildren, and at one time or another, their daughters have all played or subbed on the team.
"We always seemed to have a couple of younger players on the team," said Steffl.
"They're the ones who dive for the ball and pop it up for us, and then we're fine," added Henkels.
Next year, when volleyball season rolls around, The Eldas won't report for court duty at the YMCA, but they still plan to get together on a weekly basis, perhaps for supper or a movie. And they will hold onto that unique team name for sand volleyball.
"I was thinking earlier that the letters could actually stand for something," said Viessman. "Extraordinary Ladies Defying Age."
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.