Richmond Hall would like it to be known that, despite the jokes, he is not a dormitory. But at the rate he is going, this 16-year-old from Upper Marlboro may turn out to have a fan club named after him. Or at least a candy bar.
Go down some stairs, around a couple of bends, past a few men sweeping up, and on most Thursday nights you'll find Richmond Hall, filling the Interior Department gym with sound.
Up he goes, to the top of his leap, just as a volleyball reaches the peak of its arc. There he hangs, his eyes widening. Suddenly, whunk! Hall has slammed the ball over the net at 50 miles an hour. It lands in the far corner of the far court, just barely in bounds. Another spike. Another perfecto.
Everyone thinks he knows how to play volleyball. Just alleyoop the ball back over in three hits or less, and that's that.
It's a subspecies of sport that thrives at the Ocean Cities and Virginia Beaches of summer.
There, more often than not, the purpose is to show off for the opposite sex, or to work up a thirst for the case of beer that's helping to hold up the net. Form is secondary at best, and most "beachies" would be surprised to learn there are rules.
But to Richmond Hall and his 10 cronies, the end of Indian summer is the beginning of a serious beguine.
November is when Chaika, the Washington area's dominant serious men's volleyball team, opens practice. Richmond Hall is this year's top Chaika rookie - and perhaps its budding star. What's more, Hall has come along just in time, for this November, there are more chips on the table than usual.
The reason is a phenomenal 1977-78 season, in which Chaika's AA, or top ranked team won 20 of the 27 tournaments it entered.
The Chaikas beat the Army varsity. They crushed every club they met in the Washington and Baltimore areas. One of their players even made it on the U.S. national team, which usually recruits only Adonises from California. All in all, it was by far the best season the 6-year-old club has ever had.
So the pressure is on Lou Kormeluk, Chaika's 35-year-old player-coach. He has not deleted too many expletives lately.
"What I'm doing is working their tails off," says Kormeluk, as accountant for a consulting firm. "I've been known to lose my temper. We'd like nothing better than to do even better this year."
Kormeluk's squad is about as motley - and fanatically dedicated - as they come.
Take Bob Gaudette, a 6-foot-5, 23-year-old engineer from Chestertown, Md. To make a Chaika practice, he must drive three hours each way, every Monday and Thursday night. If Gaudette wants dinner, it's usually a McWhateverburger held in the right hand as he steers with the left. "True love?" he asks. "I guess it has to be."
And what of Greg Demko, a 30-year-old recreation specialist for Interior?All day long, he runs himself ragged at his regular work - chasing errant basketballs, running laps, coaching would-be Wimbledon champs. Just when it might be beer time - or bedtime - there he is in his Chaika tee-shirt, spiking like a kid. "Keeps me young." Demko says.
Chaika is converts - like Tom Neufer, 27, a bearded 6-foot-6 blond who starred in college basketball. It is government workers - like Larry Moxter, 28, a carpenter for the Defense Department. And it is young people - like Richmond Hall - who have never seriously played another sport.
"Sure," said Hall, a 6-foot-1 specimen, "I could have gone out for basketball. But it's tough playing two sports. Besides, this is kind of a mission. Everyone thinks it's a sissy sport. But we're not like rinky-dink fat men at the picnic."
Indeed not. For one of Lou Kormeluk's favorite tortures is diving practice.
In volleyball, the ball doesn't always drop in you lap. Sometimes it's about to land many feet in front of you. The accepted way to cope with this is to sprawl forward, arms outstretched and wrists up, and to "dig" the ball up.
Of course, gravity will cruise you in for a hard, face-first landing, and burns and scrapes are automatic. But there does not breathe a Chaika who hesitates to bellyflop.
Perhaps it's the nickname that accounts for the derring-do. Chaika is a Ukrainian word meaning seagull. It was hopeful bravado when founders George Powstenko and Carter Hall chose it in 1972. But now, according to Kormeluk, "people say the name with pride."
If only the average Joe and Jane would play the game with pride, Kormeluk's blood pressure might settle down a little. "But I'm a purist, and I've got eyes," he says. "People don't even want to learn the rules. They don't know what the hell they're doing. They play jungleball, not volleyball. It makes me furious."
But the fitness mania may change that.
According to Bill Rogers, the Washington-area delegate to the U.S. Volleyball Association, every recreation department in the area is offering adult volleyball - with rules as well as lessons - this fall. Meanwhile, Chaika members say that most elementary and junior high schools in the area offer volleyball lessons, although more often to girls than boys.
So the "great middle" of Washington volleyball may be on the way up. But for here, and for now. Chaika is Washington's Yankees. Either the team repeats as a winner, or in some sense at least, it will have failed.
"Yes, this is the time for dreaming," said Lou Kormeluk. "But it's also the time to get to work."