Editor’s note: Due to the production schedule for Pacific NW magazine, this story was written before the state’s “shelter in place” orders, intended to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, were enacted. 

 

SOMETIMES IT TAKES years to build a community in a new place. For Chris Santoso, it took only days.

I meet Santoso, who lives in Mexico but is visiting Seattle for work, at Great Night. Every Saturday evening, the Jefferson Community Center in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood hosts folks ages 18-30 for a night of sports and, ideally, friendship and networking.

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Volleyball and badminton fill the gymnasium from 7 to 9. After that, 5-on-5 basketball takes over. Santoso is a big volleyball fan, so he looked into where he could play evening pickup games during his time in Seattle. He quickly made friends, who invited him to even more volleyball nights. “Everybody’s superfriendly,” he tells me between games.

Teams swap in and out of play, and during breaks, he’s one of a few players helping others practice moves.

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Of course, most of the people here live in the area full-time. It doesn’t take long to become a regular. Folks who turn up come from a mix of backgrounds. They’re different shapes, sizes and colors, with varied life and job experiences. At Great Night, they have something in common: They love playing team sports.

“Part of it is just the exercise. It’s hard to get exercise, especially in Seattle in the winter,” a tall volleyball player named David Goff tells me. “Also, it’s partly the community and being part of a team.”

He adds that at community-center pickup nights, nobody has to put a team together in advance or worry that not enough players will turn up.

Watching volleyball and then basketball, it strikes me that pickup sports require figuring out how to work together as a team even though you don’t know one another — you don’t even know who’s going to be there at any given time. You and your teammates work it out with lots of shouting and waving and cheering and negotiating — and, of course, high-fives and praise when things go right and encouraging sympathy when they don’t.

I watch as one volleyball game ends with a few players going for the ball, missing it and falling on the floor. They lie there for a while, laughing, finally allowing their teammates to help them up.

Oscar Ayon started playing evening volleyball as a way to avoid driving home from his roofing job during rush-hour traffic. He learned about Great Night from folks he played with on weeknights, and now he’s here almost every Saturday.

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Some of the regulars became friends and eventually formed a team to play in a league. “One thing leads to another,” Ayon says.

During basketball, I watch athletic young men thunder up and down the court (unlike volleyball, all the basketball players are men — very competitive men). Like the volleyball players, they cheer greatness, laugh together at their less-than-stellar moments and chat between games.

Great Night is an extension of the free drop-in evening programs nearby community centers host for high-schoolers. “The idea was that this was that next step for them,” Jewels Jugum, a recreation leader with Seattle Parks and Recreation, tells me.

As the volleyball players pack up to leave, I hear some of them asking others whether they’ll be back next time. It’s that simple but most welcome of phrases: “See you next week?”