COLUMBIA — Atop a set of folded bleachers, Arlin Epperson sits with his video camera and tripod, capturing every moment of Columbia College’s volleyball match.
Epperson, who was a setter at Graceland College more than 50 years ago, still tries to get involved with volleyball as much as possible.
The Columbia College women's volleyball team is among the 24 teams that have qualified for the NAIA national championships set for Tuesday through Saturday at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.
The Cougars were given the No. 5 seed overall in the tournament, making them the top seed in Pool E, which includes Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) College, Indiana Tech University and Point Loma Nazarene (Calif.) University.
Columbia College defeated Indiana Tech on Oct. 7 in the Embry-Riddle Invitational but has not played Point Loma or Lewis-Clark this season.
The Cougars (35-3) begin play against Point Loma (19-8) at 1 p.m. Tuesday.
“I guess old volleyball players don't die they just fade away,” Epperson said. “It kind of gets in your blood, and so you don’t just stop playing on a certain day, you just find ways to kind of hang on and kind of fade into the sunset.”
Epperson, age 74, hangs on by filming matches, washing uniforms, helping with the team’s catering and teaching at Columbia College.
“I just like traveling with them (the players) and watching them and becoming quasi friends with them — kind of a father figure, an academic advisor, proctoring tests, that kind of thing,” Epperson said.
Epperson teaches computer information systems courses and was been the director of online programs for Columbia College from 2000 to 2003.* At that time, Epperson “sensed” a new trend coming with online teaching, which turned out to be true.
“I think there is going to be another explosion in K-12 online teaching, and I think it is about to happen right now,” Epperson said. “We’re in teacher education, and so we know how to do online, and we think we can teach high school teachers how to do that.”
Epperson is working to develop a Missouri consortium of school districts for K-12 online education with Dr. Terry Smith, Dean of Academic Affairs for Columbia College.
While he loves to teach, Epperson was able to take a sabbatical to travel to Africa for volleyball recruitment and philanthropic church reasons. He has taught church seminars in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Burundi and Botswana, but would have to call Zambia his favorite.
“Zambia is far enough south in Africa that it is a little bit more Americanized than Kenya or Uganda, you see more whites, you see more automobiles,” Epperson said. “The closer you get to South Africa, the more it looks like America. Zambia is about halfway in between, a good culture of Africa, but a little culture of America. So it is a good place to be.”
Along with trips to Zambia, Epperson remembers a trip to Egypt to meet current Cougars player, Ola Shawky. While having drinks on a boat anchored to the beach of the Nile with Shawky’s volleyball coach, Epperson was offered a glass of passion juice. Before long, he was not only filled with the yellow non-alcoholic drink, but also with regret.
“I got sick,” Epperson said. “Oh! I knew I shouldn’t have done it, but it was the culture I was trying.”
Epperson would move to Africa if he could but cannot because of financial reasons. He also said he would need to learn another language but claims to be too old to learn one at this point.
He most recently traveled to Kansas to drive six recruits back to Columbia to try out for the Cougars volleyball team. This might seem like a quick trip compared to travels to Africa, but it involved Epperson driving a total of 40 hours.
“When I was younger I used to drive 24 hours a lot,” Epperson said. “That’s why I like the bus, (I) always sit in the front seat and mentally drive, if I don’t physically drive, but I just like travel in whatever form.”
The Cougars and Epperson travel to Sioux City, Iowa, to begin the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes (NAIA) Tournament. The Cougars are in Pool E and begin a three-match round-robin pool play at 1 p.m. Tuesday.
The tournament allows Epperson extra time to be with the Cougars on the court this season.
“It’s kind of like an extended family,” Epperson said. “I love watching the game and helping out if I can. I’ll probably do it three or four more years, as long as I can climb up on the bleachers.”