Pardon us if at least once in the following paragraphs we refer to St. Charles North volleyball player Jeff Rollins as first chair rather than starting setter.
Rollins, who started playing violin at 5 years old and has been accepted into the University of Illinois School of Music, missed one volleyball tournament and two other matches from March 29-April 8 as part of an exchange program with Albert Einstein Gymnasium in Sankt Augustin, Germany. Among several groups Rollins plays with in and out of school, he went abroad as part of the St. Charles North Jazz Workshop.
"I'm incredibly grateful to my directors Jim Stombres and John Wojciechowski for setting that up and then taking our group over there. Also, how understanding Coach (Todd) Weimer was to allow me to miss so much volleyball," said the 6-foot-4 Rollins, a North Stars senior co-captain with middle hitter Jack Bujko and libero Nic Cook.
"I wished them all luck before every one of the games," said Rollins, who also rotates in at right-side hitter. "I apologized that I couldn't be there, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I definitely missed it, and I was really happy on Wednesday when I went back to practice."
Albert Einstein Gymnasium is as likely to produce dunking physicists as Chicago's Walter Payton College Prep is in training NFL superstars. Rather, it's a college preparatory school, a magnet school for musicians. Rollins' host family, the Kielhorns, chose it for their children because of its strong music program. Musicians from AEG will come to St. Charles North this fall, Rollins said.
None of the St. Charles North students spoke German; their hosts broke out broken English. Even when the tourists attended AEG one school day, words didn't really matter.
"It was really cool, this universal language of music, there were no barriers. We could all come together on that," said Rollins, who added the trombone to his repertoire in fifth-grade.
Rollins' musical career far predates his volleyball experience, which started as a high school freshman. Inspired by the works of Beethoven, when he was in seventh-grade Rollins performed with the Japanese violinist Midori. While in Germany Rollins' parents went to see another of his favorite violinists, Itzhak Perlman, at Chicago's Civic Opera House.
"I was pretty jealous of that," he said.
Along with playing in St. Charles North's Jazz Workshop he's in the school orchestra, concert band and the Elgin Youth Orchestra. For two straight years Rollins has been chosen among the top violinists for an Illinois Music Educators Association regional orchestra, and he was selected to attend an IEMA Future Music Educators seminar in Peoria from Jan. 22-25. The St. Charles North Chamber Orchestra, for which Rollins is co-concert master with Lauren Conley, was selected to perform at that seminar.
"I would just like to teach," he said.
In Germany he played. The group performed in Munich, Böblingen, Schondorf and Stuttgart, delivering standards like "My Kind of Town" and "Don't Fence Me In."
"It was really incredible," Rollins said. "Every concert that we performed, it was great to be able to just perform at such a high level for people that we didn't know, that didn't know us. But everyone that came and saw us, I feel really enjoyed it."
Appreciating host-family hospitality rather than a hotel, the group took a day trip to Strasbourg, France, and toured German sites such as the Hohenzollern Castle, near Stuttgart, which has its roots in the 11th century.
The destination that made the greatest impact on Rollins was the Dachau concentration camp, which now includes a memorial to the more than 41,000 people killed there, according to the memorial's website.
Touring Dachau, Rollins said part of it "made me sick to my stomach ..."
"It was one of those things where I wish everyone could experience so it could never happen again. It was so powerful," he said.
All the while Rollins checked on his St. Charles North volleyball teammates and their matches wherever he could find a wireless Internet connection. He admitted to a little rust when he returned to practice April 9, then helped the North Stars finish third out of six teams at a tournament at Marian Catholic.
"They were all really glad that I had come back, they missed me," Rollins said. "I'm so glad about that. I missed them, too."
Kelsey killed it
Nebraska senior volleyball player Kelsey Robinson, who helped St. Francis win more than 100 matches and finished as the program's all-time kills leader, was in the running for the Amateur Athletic Union's vaunted Sullivan Award.
Initially among 19 nominees, Robinson joined Florida track athlete Cory McGee and Penn State football player John Urschel among the three finalists for the award first offered in 1930. Urschel won the Sullivan Award in an April 11 ceremony at AAU headquarters in Orlando.
Since it's an AAU award the organization touted Robinson's eight national titles, five in volleyball and three in basketball, in an AAU career that started at 10 years old.
Her college accomplishments likewise are lofty. They include player of the year honors in two conferences -- the Big Ten in 2013 and the Southeastern Conference in 2011 while with Tennessee during her first three years in college.
Robinson's 530 kills this season were fifth-best at Nebraska, her 1,206 attacks seventh, and she earned her first First-Team All-America honor by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
The rivalry continues
The 17th annual alumni basketball games between West Aurora and East Aurora will be held Friday at East Aurora, with the women playing at 6 p.m. and the men to follow. Proceeds benefit the Marie Wilkinson Child Development Center in Aurora.
Former Tomcat Durrell Williams will coach the likes of 3-ball artists Shaun Collins and Raymond Anthony. Former West Aurora superstar Kenny Battle leads players from the Blackhawks' 2000 state championship team like Derik Hollyfield and Austin Real, and more recent stars Markus Cocroft and Travis Marion, among others.
We were hoping Ryan Boatright was listed on East's roster, but that was wishful thinking.
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