Humans of Harker: The epitome of empathy

Billy Fan exudes positivity and individuality on and off the court


Vishnu Kannan

“Volleyball is a more emotional sport than most, because everything is so fast-paced. Everyone, no matter how good you are, is going to mess up, and feel bad when they do. For most players who are in that situation, they’re really down on themselves and panicking. So what I try to do is pick them up, I try to be reassuring and calm them down instead of spreading more negativity,” Billy Fan (12) said.

“Go, go, go,” Billy Fan (12) yells, calling for his set, his voice ringing clear above the murmurs of the crowd and the squeaking of shoes shuffling across the court. The setter pushes a tempo set out to the left antenna, where Billy, assessing the trajectory of the ball, begins his powerful three step approach. Squaring up in the direction of the setter, Billy elevates off the ground and above his blockers, and cocking his arm back, he swings forward in a whip-like motion, hammering the ball into the hardwood for a Harker point.

After playing tennis and baseball in elementary school, Billy picked up volleyball in seventh grade, taking after his older sister. Despite initially having some concerns about playing what he thought then was a “girls’ sport,” Billy attended Mountain View Volleyball Club’s (MVVC) tryouts that year and ended up making their 13-Red team. Since then, Billy has been an integral part of the club, now a member of the 18-Red.

“When I first joined, I was super scared because most of my team had already played volleyball before, and everyone knew each other really well,” Billy said. “But it turned out to be the exact opposite of scary ever since. My team is basically a bunch of best friends to me. Now, we hang out off the court all the time.”

The emphasis MVVC places on the team over the individual has rubbed off on Billy over the course of his five years with the club.

“With a lot of other clubs, there’s that one alpha hitter, who gets set every ball, while all of his teammates are left in the dust,” Billy said. “[MVVC] does a great job of emphasizing that, if you are that player, you have to elevate others to your level, and if you aren’t, you have to keep working to get to that level.”

Billy has had his fair share of memorable moments during his time with MVVC, whether it be when he cramped up during a match at the Boys Junior National Championships (BJNCs) in his 14s year and had to be transported to the hospital, or when his team won bronze at the BJNCs in his 16s year after coming in as huge underdogs, being the 28th seed out of 32 teams.

The same can be said about Billy’s time playing volleyball for Harker. In his freshman year, he started as an outside hitter for the varsity volleyball team, and as one of only two freshmen on the team, Billy felt the need to prove himself, to prove that he was worthy of starting alongside his older teammates.

“As a freshman, I felt like I had to prove I belonged on varsity, and so I came out of the gate swinging super hard every ball,” Billy said. “I would go hard every match and try to get as fired up as possible. I would play my heart out every time to make sure that there was no doubt that I belonged.”

Early on, this strategy worked for Billy, but over time, he found that he was overexerting himself, both physically and mentally. Midway through the season, Billy ended up hurting his elbow. Unable to swing as he usually would, Billy adapted his game for a period of around two months, resorting to tipping and tooling as his primary sources of offense, a change he says he was only able to make with to the help of head coach Chad Gordon, who coached the boys volleyball team in Billy’s freshman and sophomore years.

“Every time I was front row, I wouldn’t actually swing, [but] I would grab the ball and chuck it forward, and it worked surprisingly well because most high school defenses are pretty undisciplined,” Billy said. “I really have to give credit to Chad for his coaching and for teaching me to be willing to try new things, because I had never even thought of [tipping] for kills before then.”

From a mental standpoint, Billy found that, while his “all gas no brakes” mentality was beneficial to him in that he was always prepared and ready to compete, it was also detrimental, causing him to be too hard on himself. As the season progressed, he began to develop a more forward-looking mindset with the help of his teammates and coaches.

“When I was younger, every time I made a mistake, I would beat myself up for it and dwell on it for a couple of points and end up not playing as well,” Billy said. “A great thing I picked up from Chad and Jeff[rey Kwan (‘20)] is to be calm because everyone makes mistakes. As I got through the season, I learned to be more level-headed and not get so worked up about everything.”

In his sophomore season, Billy transitioned into more of a leadership role, helping lead the team to a first place finish in CCS and a second place finish in NorCals. Billy sought to exude positivity and act as a “calming presence” on the team, placing an emphasis on “picking up his teammates” and helping instill in them the forward-looking mindset that he had been taught in years prior.

“Volleyball is a more emotional sport than most, because everything is so fast-paced. Everyone, no matter how good you are, is going to mess up, and feel bad when they do,” Billy said. “For most players who are in that situation, they’re really down on themselves and panicking. So what I try to do is pick them up, I try to be reassuring and calm them down instead of spreading more negativity.”

Billy’s empathetic nature on and off the court is something Karan Bhasin (12), Billy’s friend of four years, can attest to. Karan first met Billy at DECA Launch, where he found Billy to be a “really amicable and good-natured” individual.

“Billy and I met before school even started. We both didn’t really know anybody, so we partnered for our first roleplay. My first impressions were that he’s a really friendly and funny guy and really comfortable with striking friendships with new people, and that’s something I’ve seen through the four years I’ve known him, and I experienced it first hand then,” Karan said.

Karan describes Billy’s infectious personality as being “present everywhere, from the classroom, to our Super Bowl parties, to bus rides on field trips.” He especially appreciates Billy for his dependability and for his willingness to be there for his friends in times of need.

“In our junior year, [Billy and I] played catch with a football every day after school, and it was a really nice way for us to relieve our stress. While we were playing catch, we would be telling jokes and laughing and talking about how our days went, and it was always really nice to have that with Billy,” Karan said. “That was one of the constants in our lives. It was really nice to have someone I could always talk to.”

In his free time, Billy enjoys doing outdoor activities with his family, whether it be hiking or biking. He also loves playing Magic: The Gathering, a deck-building card game. He was introduced to the game by one of his friends in middle school, and three years ago, when the game was released in an online format, Billy transitioned from playing with physical decks to playing online.

“Ever since middle school, when my friend introduced me to [Magic: The Gathering], I’ve loved it. I can’t place exactly why I enjoy it so much, but it’s really fun to me to be able to build decks and play with them,” Billy said.

Despite being disappointed by Billy’s “horrible taste in music,” Srivishnu Pyda (12), who has known Billy since his freshman year, appreciates Billy for being a really “well-rounded friend and teammate.”

“Billy is extremely kind, I haven’t really seen any instances of him being mean. I watched pretty much all of the volleyball team’s home games, and even on the court, when someone messes up, he is always really encouraging and supportive,” Srivishnu said. “He is also pretty funny and laid-back, and he is always the first to reach out to make sure you are okay if he thinks you are sad or feeling down.”