Scotia-Glenville sixth-graders Brandon Clum, Ryan Forth and Nate Huthmacher had one word to describe Bob Holmes’ visit to the middle school: “Inspiring.”
Holmes single-handedly topped a team of 11 teachers and administrators in a game of volleyball.
After winning, 25-20, on the teachers’ home court, Holmes told the sixth-grade students who packed the gymnasium’s bleachers to never give up, to encourage instead of bully and to “decide you won’t do what everybody else does.”
“It was inspiring,” said Brandon, 11, as Nate nodded.
“That’s what I was gonna say,” Ryan, 11, said.
Holmes had the students’ full attention Tuesday, as serve after powerful serve left the teachers scrambling just to return the ball. The Boston native has been entertaining students and communities while spreading a message of beating the odds for three decades.
“That’s an excellent serve. That is hard to handle,” said Anthony Peconie, assistant principal at the middle school. “He was shutting us down with that.”
Sixth-grader Shawn Lawrence, 11, thought Holmes was holding back.
“I thought he should have gone a little harder on them,” he said.
Sixth-grade teacher Dave Swain returned a few serves, with a diving, one-handed effort inching over the net. That impressed even Holmes, who has beaten teams made up of players from the Buffalo Bills and the Baltimore Orioles.
“Did you see that shot he just got?” he asked the students. “I have played some Olympic players who do not get that spin shot back on the floor.”
Holmes had the students on their feet and cheering for him to top their teachers — he promised them pizza and no homework if he won.
“We are at game point,” he said into a microphone with the score at 24-20. “If you want no homework, stand up and scream!”
After the game, when Holmes said the no homework part was up to the teachers, the students were suddenly fans of the teachers. Holmes won the students back by offering them free pizza if they went to his public performance at the high school at 7 p.m. that night.
“You will have free pizza, and I’m going to take on all of you at once,” he said as they screamed.
While Holmes was outnumbered in the volleyball game, the odds were actually in his favor. Holmes, who didn’t play the sport in high school or college, has played more than 18,000 games of volleyball and lost only about 400 times.
He told the students why, after 31 years of playing as a one-man team, he keeps playing.
“I am doing this because I don’t want you to ever quit,” he said.
Holmes then told them that last year, 300,000 teenagers tried to take their own lives. He told the story of a boy with a limp who was picked on by his classmates, and who later hanged himself in the school bathroom. He told another story of a boy who wanted to end his life, but one random act of kindness by a stranger changed his mind.
“You see on the news, don’t you? You see even elementary kids jumping off bridges now. How many agree with me? We need to stop it and get life back,” he said as the students applauded.
Peconie, the assistant principal, said Holmes’ message is one “that we try to reinforce every day about making good choices and certainly being a positive influence on others and good positive role models.”
Students in grades six, seven and eight heard Holmes’ message during morning assemblies. Holmes also spoke to high school students during afternoon gym glasses.
“You’re bringing kids into this setting to capture an audience, and they all get to hear the same message,” Peconie said. “And he certainly brings a nice, strong anti-bullying message.”