Stars and Spikes Forever: Free to Play Because of the Brave

Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light

As the first few notes of our National Anthem fill the air in the gym, I sneak a peek down the line of my teammates. I can't help but smile. The tips of our white/black Mizuno volleyball shoes are touching the end line. Jerseys neatly tucked into our spandex. Hair pulled back into ponytails and braids.

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?

Our backs are to the net as we face the stars and stripes of our American flag. It dances slowly in the breeze of the air conditioner. We are standing shoulder to shoulder. Our left arm is around our teammate and the other pressed softly against our hearts.

Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight

Suddenly, there is no one else in the gym with me. My teammates are gone. There is no opposing team. No referees or line judges. There are no fans or family members. It is just the flag and me in my volleyball gear.

O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?

My thoughts wander to the men and women of our military, who fight for our freedoms – past, present, and future. If it wasn't for them, would I be standing here on the court with my teammates?

And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air

Would I be a student-athlete in college? Would I have this jersey with my team's name on the front? Would I even be here?

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

Would I have this incredible opportunity to represent my university, playing volleyball matches against teams from all over this wonderful nation?

Oh, say does that Star – Spangled Banner yet wave

My breath catches in my throat as I realize that every freedom I have, including the sport I love, comes from the work and sacrifice of our armed forces – men and women who I don't even know. And these strangers – who don't even know me – have given up so many things, so that I can have so much. While our country is not perfect, we should still be thankful.

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

As our National Anthem comes to an end and the crowd roars with anticipation of the upcoming battle across the net, I switch my focus back to volleyball. However, our Armed Forces and the true battles they face are not forgotten. Each and every time I hear the opening notes of The Star-Spangled Banner, I think of them. I can only hope that my silent prayer of thanks can be felt by them all.

We are free to play because of the brave. To the members of our military – past, present, future – stars and spikes forever!