Volleyball’s No. 1 fan

Cliff Hankins claims he only goes to two volleyball matches a week.

The only problem is that you can see him at as many as four matches per week. Hankins (right) is everywhere. You will find him watching volleyball at boys and girls high school matches, college matches of all levels and even at the Great Lakes Power League in Aurora for club girls matches on weekends in the spring.

I can’t imagine anyone else in the Chicago area loves high school volleyball more than Hankins. I have seen him at Hersey for a regular season match or at the Maine West Pumpkin tournament. There he was Saturday watching the 16-team Rich East Invitational in the far South suburbs. During Lyons matches at Rich East, Hankins sat near Bob Williams, the father of Lyons’ Duke-bound outside hitter Laura Williams. Bob videotapes nearly every Lyons match.

One Lyons parent already declared Hankins as the team’s No. 1 fan. He attends most of their home matches since the school is close to his job at a warehouse for a nut and bolt distributor in Countryside.

“I like the competition,” Hankins said. “I enjoy all of them. The boys are entirely different than the girls. Like any sport, you become familiar with the players names and you meet the parents sometimes; sometimes you don’t.”

He has been watching area volleyball matches for 15 years.

He is watching volleyball four days this week. There are high school matches to attend Tuesday and Thursday and then he will travel to the South Side for one of the area’s biggest tournaments of the season. Hankins will watch pool play Friday night and the finals Saturday at the Asics Challenge at Mother McAuley.

Hankins even traveled to Redbird Arena in Normal last November to watch Lyons win its third state championship in school history. The experience ranked as Hankins’ No. 1 volleyball-related event.

“It was the culmination of their hopes and dreams,” he said.

It brought back Hankins’ own memories of reaching a state championship as a senior in high school, and not winning. Hankins has never played volleyball competitively.

He was a basketball player at South Oak Cliff High School in Dallas, his hometown. He also played college basketball at Kilgore Junior College and at Texas A&M. He moved to Chicago in 1973 so he has finally lived longer here than he did in his native Texas.

He said he has watched too many good players over the years to list any favorites.

When Hankins became interested in volleyball, he wanted to play recreationally. In order to learn more about the game, he took a Power Volleyball class at Oak Park-River Forest High School through Triton College.

The first match he remembers watching was between Triton and Dominican University.

Since he started watching volleyball seriously, the game has evolved with rules changes to enhance offense. There is now open serving along the endline, let serves, rally scoring and the addition of a new position known as the libero.

“I like some of it, some of it I wish you can get rid of like in the net,” Hankins said. “You just brush the net and the girls on the other team get a point.”

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