FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — Bob Holmes started playing volleyball several years ago as a way to deal with a bad back. Now the New Hampshire resident combines his skill on the court with a powerful message that he shares with students around the country.
Billed as the “One Man Volleyball Team,” Holmes recently visited the Fort Fairfield Middle/High School where he squared off against teams of both male and female students, as well as a team of teachers. He won every game.
“This is not about volleyball,” he said. “It’s about changing lives and challenging youth to make a difference for themselves, as well as others.
“What led me to start doing this was seeing all of the suicides and kids dying from drugs and alcohol, and wanting to be a positive Christian role model,” said Holmes. “I want them to know that these games are done because I want them to have a future and not be destroyed.”
Following the matchups, Holmes encouraged the students to never give up.
“Get a dream. My dream is to help somebody live again,” he said. “Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb, and it took him over 10,000 experiments [to succeed]. Somebody said, ‘How does it feel, Mr. Edison, having failed 10,000 times to invent a light bulb?’ He said, ‘I didn’t fail 10,000 times. I successfully found 10,000 ways a light bulb won’t work,’ and he kept going. You all need to keep going.
“When Col. Sanders of KFC first came out with his recipe, he was rejected over 1,000 times,” said Holmes, who visits between 8-12 schools a week where he plays four games at each assembly. “He said he wanted the world to enjoy his chicken. Guess what I want the world to enjoy … teenagers that are living again.”
Recognizing that most beer commercials “show what’s fun now,” Holmes warned the students that commercials don’t show the negative consequences of drinking and driving.
“When you end up in the hospital, those Hollywood stars are swimming in their heart-shaped swimming pools while you’re dying, and I want you to live,” he said. “That’s why I’m tired of the TV making girls look like they’re just sex objects. I think it’s time for boys to start respecting girls again. Keep their hands off until marriage no matter what Lady Gaga says about it. And it’s time for the girls to start respecting boys.
“My first week playing ball, a boy came up to me. He said, ‘Look at this.’ He took his hat off and said, ‘Notice I don’t have any hair. I’ve got AIDS, and I’m dying in three months,’” said Holmes. “I had 50 games my first week doing this and he said, ‘Don’t quit. I only have three months left to live.’ He said, ‘The rock singers and Hollywood stars are promoting sex and now that I’ve got this disease, they’re living it up while I’m dying.’ I looked at that dying boy and said, ‘I’ll go until I can’t move. If I can play when I’m 80, then I’ll keep going.’ Little did I ever dream that I’d keep my promise to a dying boy by playing more games than anybody’s played in history.”
Holmes, who is featured in the “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” book, has beaten the likes of the Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, a first-place beach volleyball team and — on three occasions — has defeated the Buffalo Bills.
“I’ve actually played volleyball against 500,000 people since I started back in 1983,” he said.
Holmes has appeared in more than 5,500 gymnasiums in front of over 5 million people, and has about 18,100 wins and 400 losses.
The reason Holmes single-handedly takes on teams, he said, is to illustrate the importance of standing alone and not giving in to peer pressure.
“If everybody else is drinking, if everybody else is doing this and doing that, if everybody else is bullying somebody, if everybody else is doing something they shouldn’t, why don’t you stand alone and say, ‘I’m going to row my own boat; others aren’t going to row my boat. I’m going to make up my own mind, and I’m not going to wreck my future,’” he said.
It’s the life-changing responses he has received from students who decided against suicide that keep Holmes inspired.
“A boy sent me an e-mail after I visited his school and he told me he originally had planned to end his life. He had his computer cord all ready to hang himself, but when he heard my message, he got motivated and decided not to kill himself,” said Holmes. “That motivates me to keep going. I don’t want to ever stop this.”
Fort Fairfield juniors Brandon York and Megan Jellison were among the students who squared off against Holmes.
“I’ve never played volleyball in my life, but he asked for more people, so I jumped up and thought it would be fun,” said York. “The part that will stick with me was when he was talking about drinking and driving, and how the commercials make alcohol look so fun, but it’s really not. What can happen really makes you think.”
“It felt good to be part of his program,” Jellison said. “His message was powerful. The commercials do make drinking look fun, but in reality, it’s not and can ruin peoples’ lives. While we hear similar messages from say our teachers, who we respect, it was nice hearing it from him because he goes all over the country and talks with so many different people. It was a great assembly.”
Robyn Daigle, the school’s social worker, was instrumental in bringing Holmes to Fort Fairfield.
“I was having lunch with another school’s social worker and she mentioned Bob’s website. I did some research and thought it was really interesting, and we used a little bit of grant money that was left over to bring him here,” she said, noting that Holmes held two assemblies — one for students in grades 4-6 and one for grades 7-12. “I hope the younger students take away from his message to not quit and look ahead. Nowadays too many kids get discouraged too fast and give up, and they need to push through it.
“I hope the high schoolers really heard the message of commercials and drinking and driving and how lives can be destroyed,” said Daigle. “If Bob’s visit helps even one student either to not quit or to not drink and drive, it was well worth it. He touched a lot of people and I’m glad we were able to have him here.”
For more information on Holmes’ program, visit www.beatbob.com.