Volleyball has profound impact on government professor.
By Austin P. Taylor
Government Professor Asslan Khaligh has been playing volleyball for most of his life. Ever since he was a child, Khaligh found himself attracted to the sport.
“One of the things that attracted me to volleyball was how cheap it is to set up,” Khaligh said. “You don’t need fancy shoes, a special net or even a great ball. We certainly didn’t have those.”
Khaligh grew up in Isfahan, Iran. The area of Isfahan that Khaligh grew up in allowed him and his friends to easily set up makeshift courts.
For those unfamiliar with the sport of volleyball, the setup is relatively simple.
A flat area is separated into two halves by a net; the net is held between two posts. The players, whether playing in teams or individually, must hit the ball over the net and attempt to hit the ground within bounds on the side of the opposing team.
So the real key to the game is the net, the only component that might be hard to come by. Luckily for Khaligh, he and his friends had a solution.
“Where I grew up, there were a lot of small alleyways,” Khaligh said. “So we’d take a thread or a string and we’d tie it from one side of the alley to the other.”
That simple fix was all Khaligh and company needed.
While volleyball was the hobby that Khaligh would fall in love with, it wasn’t the first one that piqued his interest.
Khaligh also had an appreciation for martial arts.
“When I was a kid, Bruce Lee’s kung-fu was the coolest thing,” Khaligh said. “I must have seen ‘Enter the Dragon,’ and I’m not exaggerating, about 100 times.”
Khaligh’s love for martial arts rested in the meditative focus of the exercise. He found the practice helpful when he needed to center himself.
Unfortunately, his father didn’t see it the same way.
“He was very much against my interest in the martial arts,” Khaligh said. “He thought that martial arts was an inherently violent practice.”
Khaligh’s father needed a way to get his son out of martial arts, fast.
“It was as if he was afraid that I would go around chopping at people in the streets!” Khaligh said.
So Khaligh’s father asked his son to join a sport, something that he felt would build character in a more meaningful way.
Eventually, this led him to volleyball, a sport that would envelop his life for decades to come.
Khaligh played volleyball throughout his schooling years; he even went on to play for the National University of Iran (now Shahid Beheshti University). He would often play as a setter.
In volleyball, a setter is a supporting role. Khaligh would set up shots and spikes for other players to exploit.
Khaligh never played as a spiker; he thought he was not tall enough for the role.
So while attending the university, Khaligh focused on his studies.
There wasn’t much of a future in volleyball during the 1970s, at least not in Iran.
So Khaligh focused on his grades. He received a bachelor of arts from the university and eventually finished his education at St. Mary’s University with a master’s in political science and government.
However, Khaligh never stopped finding pleasure in volleyball.
“When I first moved here, I would often use one of the tennis courts near my apartment,” Khaligh said.
He began meeting people who shared his passion for the sport.
Eventually, he and a group of other like-minded individuals were able to start a group at Colonial Hills Methodist Church.
They weren’t technically involved with the church, which ultimately led to their program being cut after several years.
They later established another volleyball group at St. Matthew Catholic Church.
This group went on for about a decade until, much like before, they were shut down.
Khaligh doesn’t hold anything against the churches. He understands their reasoning.
“We weren’t contributing enough to the church, so they’d cut us,” Khaligh said. “Often we’d be replaced by a youth sports program.”
Khaligh’s love for volleyball comes as a bit of a surprise to collaborators on this campus.
“I didn’t know that he played volleyball,” said Brenda Meneses, the office administrator at the Methodist Student Center, where Khaligh has helped organize Hot Potato lectures for about 30 years. “It’s funny, though — he used to be my instructor.”
Meneses has worked with Khaligh since she joined the center in 2004.
Khaligh often serves as a Hot Potato speaker discussing politics in the Middle East, ISIS, the Iran nuclear deal and other topics.
Another collaborator expressed surprise that Khaligh has an interest in spiking as well as speaking.
“I thought it a little odd,” said the Rev. Johnny Silva, the director of the student center. “It wasn’t the first thing that came to mind.”
While Khaligh hasn’t played volleyball for a while, he still holds the sport close to his heart.
He enjoys religiously watching high-level volleyball. When he looked back on these years, it’s clear Khaligh is fond of those times.
“I’ve met some wonderful people while playing volleyball,” Khaligh said. “I keep in touch with a few of them; they’re wonderful people.”
It was around this time that Khaligh began seeing volleyball as a meditative exercise, in a way that was similar to his early views on martial arts.
“I found that the sport helped me channel my negative feelings toward whatever had been going on in my life into something constructive,” Khaligh said.
“It really calmed me.”