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The Zak Zone

August 23, 2011

Last week, I wrote about the importance of camaraderie when considering what is a sport. This week, I saw camaraderie in action as I took photos of each fall sports team preparing for its season at the Punxsutawney Area High School's media day.

Hundreds of Punxsutawney area athletes gathered sometime between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to have their photos taken, but what goes unseen in the still shots that the camera captured is the fellowship that sports is providing.

From the golf and volleyball pictures at the crack of dawn to the boys' cross country pictures before their evening practice, one thing was common among all the players: Smiles on their faces.

Whether it was the cheerleading squads showcasing their energetic positivity, even earlier in the morning than I like to be awake, or the girls' soccer team running drills in preparation for a scrimmage, I got to witness somewhat of a rarity in today's society: People interacting with others face-to-face.

In the age of Facebook and Twitter and a thousand other "social networking" sites, these kids were interacting with each other without punching keys on their cell phones or firing up their laptops.

I don't want to get all preachy and go "when I was a kid" on you, but I remember the days when my brother and I used to take a tennis ball outside and bounce it off our shed for hours on end, making up the rules of whatever game we wanted to play that day as we went.

One day, I would be Kobe Bryant shooting a fadeaway game-winning shot from the free throw line, and the next, I would be Ken Griffey Jr. swinging for the fences in our backyard home run derby.

My Punxsutawney athletics career was a short one.

I played seventh- and eighth-grade football, and in ninth grade, I played for the golf team. I was OK at football and horrible at golf, but I discovered a game that I was pretty good at and loved to play my sophomore year: Volleyball.

Since Punxsy didn't have a boys' volleyball team, I found other places to play, and some of my favorite memories take me back to the days of bumping, setting and spiking at the community center or whichever church gym was hosting a tournament that weekend.

It's encouraging for me to know that there are still kids finding the camaraderie that we all need so badly in the same arena that I discovered it. I was a shy loner in high school until I started playing in volleyball tournaments, and suddenly, I started seeing familiar faces throughout the crowded hallways at school.

Eighth-graders, new to the high school, meet new teammates and are given the opportunity to bond with them before school even starts, and those upperclassmen-filled hallways don't seem quite as intimidating.

In the age where everyone is instantly plugged into everything, the interactions that matter most still take place at band practice, sporting events and in the hallways at school.

After all, the computer can never offer a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on when your high school crush goes to prom with someone else, can it?

I look forward to seeing what camaraderie can bring to the PAHS athletic pro-grams this season, and for many to come.

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