Rob Bennett’s had invited Joe Cordonier’s to her birthday party in the Dunbar neighbourhood. Rob went along for the ride.
The two hung out in the Bennetts’ backyard. Rob can’t remember exactly what they did but he still has a photo of the occasion. After that, they did what kids do together — ate a lot of Cheerios, played video games and played sports.
Lots of sports.
Now, so many years later, the two graduating UBC students are getting ready to bid adieu to each other on the volleyball court where they have been teammates for 13 years, through elementary school, in a club in high school and then at university.
“You can definitely tell by the way they communicate with each other that they have played together for sure,” said the team coach, Richard Schick.
It’s a bittersweet ending to a dynamic pairing in a sport that relies so heavily on an intuitive knowledge of one’s teammates. In their case, that knowledge has been there in spades.
There is a symbiosis to their playing relationship that has been built over time.
For the first years of their varsity playing career, Bennett was often the one on the bench, while Cordonier was the star, serving, spiking, diving, blocking. His friend watched and later advised.
Now the roles are reversed. With Cordonier injured, Bennett is the leader and captain on the floor, looking to his longtime friend on the bench for timely, insightful feedback.
“Having played with someone for so long, it’s really a good thing for trust and just for understanding how a person is playing,” said Bennett. “I kind of understand what he is trying to do. I know his tendencies. I feel like if he says something to me, he is not nagging on my case. It really means something. Joe is definitely the guy I listen to the most.”
Their lives have been intertwined on many levels for many years. They lived in the same neighbourhood. Their families knew each other. They used to tear around the area on their bikes.
Cordonier’s father, who used to be on the UBC rowing team, coached Bennett in soccer for eight or nine years and became his confirmation sponsor in the Catholic Church. Cordonier’s mother was their phys-ed teacher and volleyball coach at Immaculate Conception elementary school, where they started playing volleyball together, launching a boyish adventure that was to last 13 years.
Both boys went to different all-boys high schools; Cordonier struck out for Vancouver College while Bennett went to St. George’s.
Still, they played together with the Thunder volleyball club and because Vancouver College didn’t have a volleyball team in those years, Cordonier wound up playing for St. George’s in a few tournaments.
Basketball was a different matter. Here the boys found themselves on opposite sides of the court, serving up the best they could offer, feeding the long-standing heated rivalry between the two schools. Even here, an outstanding shared trait shone brightly as they clashed head on — their fierce competitiveness.
“It would be fun because literally we would play each other one day in basketball where you would be kind of trained to hate each other and the next day, we would be on the same volleyball court and we’d switch over just like that,” said Cordonier.
Their friendship has taken a few knocks over the years.
There was the time in Grade 4 in shot put practice when Cordonier wound up breaking Bennett’s collarbone in a fight.
“We used to play wrestle all the time and he ended up landing on top of me in a shot put practice,” said Bennett, without a trace of resentment. After all, boys will be boys.
There is a serious side to their friendship, a richness that they treasure as they get ready to leave the competitive volleyball court and head out into different horizons.
To be sure, their friendship has changed since the day they met in the backyard at a birthday party. Boys grow into men; they develop different interests.
Cordonier is completing a degree in kinesiology and biological sciences while Bennett is studying art history and visual arts. Bennett is thinking of heading to Europe after graduation to play professionally, while Cordonier’s body isn’t up to the rigours of such a pursuit. He is looking at a career in research and a master’s degree.
As the two head out to Langley this weekend for the final two games of the regular season against Trinity Western, and as the team heads into the playoffs, they hope that Cordonier’s injuries will be kept at bay long enough for one last hurrah together on the volleyball court.
Then a goodbye.
Perhaps with a hug. Perhaps with a few words. Perhaps with a nod, a knowing look, a shared glance. Perhaps there are no words that can suffice.