For as long as I can remember, my uncle owned a boat. My first memory of visiting my aunt and uncle in New Jersey involves pulling into their driveway and seeing a gleaming boat that through my child’s eyes seemed large and exciting. My uncle let me on right there on dry land and in the way you’d explore a playhouse, I looked in the nooks and crannies and went up and down the stairs leading to the cabin. That trip I got my first taste of the wind blowing across my face and through my hair as we took it out on a lake and, after anchoring, jumped off of it like a diving board into the water.
When I was in high school, my aunt and uncle gave my cousin and me a graduation gift to spend a week with them on the Jersey shore in a rental house. The boat went with us, and out on the water with my uncle, an avid fisherman, I managed to catch a small shark. My uncle also took us boating along the shore where I could see the picturesque view of lighthouses converging with the skyline.
In preparation to move to Florida, my uncle sold his New Jersey boat in favor of a flat-bottom option, more conducive to the Gulf. It was in the warm waters of Florida that I first saw dolphins and manatees in their natural habitat. Once a seven-foot shark swam by after we had anchored. I’ve been lucky to catch a glimpse of a sea turtle popping its head above the surface, seemingly curious to know who and what we were. I’ve watched in amazement as the glistening silver backs of enormous tarpon rolled through the water, taunting the fishermen with their dropped lines and set determination.
On our most recent boating adventure in The Sunshine State, we were briskly skimming the water, heading to an outlying island when we ended up surrounded by stingrays. And not just a handful, but hundreds to thousands. I’d never seen anything like it! My uncle killed the motor and all boat occupants looked on in awe — and maybe slight terror considering that with the multitude of stingrays were venomous barbs. In each direction we turned, our eyes beheld the majesty of these ocean creatures gliding in a dance right below the water’s surface.
Aside from my aquarium observation that stingrays have adorable smiles on their underbellies and that they sometimes look like they’re waving as their fins break the water surface, I didn’t know much about them. So when we saw this extraordinary sight, it made me curious. Do stingrays live in these large communities? Are stingrays similar to dolphins which often travel and hunt in pods? I was determined to find out after returning to land.
National Geographic for Kids helped me find my answer: most stingrays are solitary animals, coming together only for breeding or migration. A group of stingrays is called a “fever” and can reach up to 10,000 individual rays.
To further my search I found that a specific type of stingray — the golden cownose — migrates twice a year with the clockwise current of the Gulf of Mexico, from the Yucatan Peninsula to the western coast of Florida. If it was this particular migration we got to see, how amazing that we would catch this brilliance on one short boat ride!
As I’m set to take on a new coaching position with USD 410 this fall, I can’t help but be inspired by the beauty of thousands of rays — all with a preference of solitude, of individuality — coming together for a specific purpose. It’s the epitome of teamwork.
You might remember that in May I wrote about the team element of track and field in a piece called “Our Stories are both Individual and Corporate” and now through mid-October, I’ll be able to work with a group of middle school girls as head volleyball coach, teaching the importance of teamwork. It’s something I’m passionate about, so I’m excited to take on the role.
While I have years of experience as an assistant coach, assuming the lead role will be a learning curve. I’m currently neck-deep in the rules and regulations of the sport, taking online courses and tests. I’m trying to get a handle on ordering team shirts that will not only function as casual wear, but as team jerseys. I’m thinking through drills and practice schedules, and I’m also envisioning a way to frame teamwork in varying elements of the game — and not just on the court.
I know each individual athlete will bring her own skillset to the table. There will be different personalities and preferences. There will be varying levels of skill, knowledge and ability. (This is similar to track and field, and we’ll be sure to remember that learning is a process; Lipstick & Pearls, April 20 edition). We’ll work toward improvement. We’ll work toward character development. We’ll work toward teamwork.
And I hope by the season’s end the way the girls work together will be a sight to behold — kinda like those stingrays.
Malinda Just has been writing Lipstick & Pearls for the Free Press since 2008. To read more of her writing, visit her blog, www.malindajust.com, or find her on social media @MalindaDJust.