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Volleyball veterans get special treat
Jennifer Thornton
Jennifer Thornton makes a leaping return during an exhibition volleyball match in the new Effingham County Gymnasium in Springfield on Monday. Thornton is surrounded by opponent Patti Kessler (from left) and teammates Jean Hunt and Stephanie Weitman. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

SPRINGFIELD — Some of the most dedicated players in the Effingham County Recreation and Parks Department’s volleyball program christened Effingham County Gymnasium with an exhibition match Monday night.

“This is awesome,” Jennifer Thornton said while glancing around the $4.5 million facility a few minutes before the opening serve.

Thornton has played volleyball in Effingham County for 15 years. Some of her teammates and opponents in Monday’s match have competed locally for more than twice as long, mostly in the gym at 808 Ga. Hwy 119 in Springfield.

“I think we are in our thirty-fifth or thirty-sixth year,” Effingham County Recreation and Parks Department Director Clarence Morgan said. 

Morgan said no sport in his department features as many longtime players as volleyball. Some of them are quite boisterous, he added.

“I’ll tell you how rotten these ladies were,” he joked. “When they went to rally scoring (a system where a point is scored on every rally), I had to quit after a couple games and go back to the old way. They fussed and I gave in to them.”

Morgan loves every one of the players. He calls them “my extended family.”

Stephanie Weitman has been playing recreation department volleyball for at least 34 years. She started when she was about 11.

“A lot of my team from back then is the same,” she said.

Weitman is impressed with spacious new gym. Located at the Clarence E. Morgan Complex, it features three volleyball courts and state-of-the-art dressing rooms.

“This was definitely needed,” she said. “We talked about it in our last game at the other gym. Some people hit the I-beam going across it (with the ball).

“We won’t be able to do that here.”

Weitman’s mother, Dixie Weitman, was her coach when she made her volleyball debut.

“I’m 67 now. I quit playing a few years ago because these girls scared me,” the elder Weitman said with a laugh.

The team is now coached by Jean Hunt, whose players range in age from about 35-63. She had a bag with her that was filled with jerseys in pristine condition from as far back as 1991.

The exhibition, officiated briefly by longtime recreation department employee Barbara Bruner, featured one of Hunt’s team’s familiar rivals. It included Patti Kessler, a 36-year veteran.

“We are not too serious about anything,” Kessler said. “We are out there to have fun. We love playing (Hunt’s team).”