Let me start by saying I'm not a big sports fan.
Oh, I'll always root on the home team, and I considered it a privilege to cover the Sunnyside Christian High School volleyball team this year on their way to State. In fact, I've been silently cheering them on for the duration of the season.
So when the editor told me I was to go to the SunDome and take pictures of them playing in the State tournament I was delighted. I'd attended their first match, so it would be fitting to see one of their last of the season.
It was also the first State tournament I've attended as a journalist. I was a little awed to have a press "badge" and be let in the press door like a serious photographer instead of the rank amateur that I am. The awe lasted right up until I saw the insane layout of the courts. Then all I felt was despair.
The SunDome was crammed with six volleyball courts laid out in rows of three. And of course, the 1B schools were playing in the center courts.
Now, I don't know about anyone else, but even my non-sports fan brain understands that Thorp and Sunnyside are both close to Yakima, and that both programs have strong support from their fans.
So I was more than a little stunned to realize that the bleacher space for both sets of fans was the width of the short side of a volleyball court and only about six rows deep.
The courts at the edges had more room for fans, using the bleacher space on those sides. But the two center courts had few spots, and by the time I arrived the fans were already getting to the point of standing room only.
The media was also in a bind. Photographers like myself were not being allowed on the courts for the first few matches, and I ended up having to take a precious seat from a Sunnyside Christian fan in the bleachers to get photos.
But if the fans and media had it tough, the teams had it tougher.
Teams playing in the center courts had only one way to get to their matches... across the back of another court. In fact, right in the serving area. The games were being played simultaneously, but sometimes a match ended before the others and yes, the teams would have to wait to get off the court or come on to warm up.
There was also the ball problem. A net was strung down the center, preventing most balls from going from row to row, but there was nothing between the three courts on each row except team seating, and many games were being interrupted constantly when balls from other courts bounced into the middle of action.
I won't say that Sunnyside Christian lost to Thorp only because good plays they made were interrupted by other balls, forcing do-overs, but the added stress of having to constantly replay a hard-won point couldn't have been easy on either team.
While taking photos of another match for one of our sister publications, I chatted with a photographer who had taken pictures at last year's volleyball tournament. He told me the layout was five courts, and there was enough bleacher space for all fans, enough room for the media to maneuver without blocking the view of fans and enough space between courts that interruptions weren't so constant.
I don't know what possessed the WIAA to use the insane layout for the just completed 2011 tournament, though I suspect it comes down to money. But I hope, for the sake of the players and the fans, not to mention the media, that they go to a better format next year.