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On one hand, the timing couldn't have been worse.

When William "Bronko" Van Horn made his presence known to the world on March 15 — weighing in at 6 pounds, 11 ounces and measuring 21 inches long — his mother Juliana and father Darin were already in the middle of the season coaching the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga beach volleyball team.

Because Darin's the head coach and Juliana the director of operations for the entire program, both indoor and beach volleyball had kept their lives pretty busy long before Bronko arrived. And as she tried to return to the sideline after Bronko's birth, the usual new mother fears and doubts arose inside her.

"Was I crazy for doing this?" she'd ask herself. "Am I at all prepared for this?"

On their son's 10th day on earth, she got her answer. At least in her world — one driven by UTC volleyball; both the athletes who play it and the parents who support it — she would have a strong, loving village to help the couple raise their first child.

The Mocs facing a doubleheader at home that March 25 against Morehead State and UT Martin, Juliana and Darin decided to take Bronko to the matches.

"Having him come in the middle of beach volleyball season has definitely been a challenge," she said. "But the support of the Chattanooga volleyball community has been amazing. The parents of our players have been so supportive. That first day I came back, they fed him and held him so I could coach. Them volunteering to watch over him like that meant everything."

A word about the name. Back in the fall during football season, a documentary on all-time Chicago Bears great Bronko Nagurski was on television one afternoon. Darin was immediately drawn to the name. He talked it over with Juliana and it was quickly embraced.

"I also like Rob Gronkowski," Darin said of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end. "... I want to call him Bronk one day."

Every birth is precious and fun and emotional. At least it should be. And especially on Mother's Day, when individuals all over the world recognize the woman who gave them life, raised them and nurtured them, in most cases all three.

For Juliana, who will celebrate her first Mother's Day by joining Darin and Bronko on Sunday in Orange Beach, Alabama, at the NCAA beach volleyball championship tournament, motherhood has thus far been all she hoped it would be and more.

"The biggest joy, the best blessing," she said Saturday morning. "I'm so in love with him. So honored to be his mother."

And never more so than when he first rises each day around 5 a.m. for his breakfast feeding.

"He'll be up for a couple of hours," Juliana said. "He smiles. He coos. Just watching him, seeing him look around at his world. He'll pull on Darin's beard. Absolutely precious. By far my favorite moment each day."

Anyone blessed enough to be a parent has been there. The cooing. The smiles. The twinkling eyes as they begin to soak in the world around them, so many of them serenaded, as Bronk has been, by Baby Einstein music, or perhaps a parent's favorite tunes.

"I like to play some of my favorite Christian songs from when I was growing up," Juliana said. "Darin likes alternative rock."

His favorite alt rock band?

"Reel Big Fish," he said.

And like any parent who loves sports and hopes his child become a special athlete, even one not yet 8 weeks old, Juliana said Darin has a plan to turn Bronko into a really big fish in the sport of volleyball.

"He's already trying to make him a lefty," she explained, "because he thinks that would give him a big advantage."

As they have the past couple of years because of the coronavirus, Darin and Juliana will FaceTime their own mothers on Sunday. Bronko is sure to be a star of the show. Then, after the NCAA championship match is over in Orange Beach, they'll drive home, Juliana's first Mother's Day in the books.

On Saturday, Darin was still keeping his wife's gifts a secret. But it is no secret how he feels about her as they roll into parenthood.

"She's so strong," he said. "She's still so determined to help others. She never complains. She's a rock star. I tell people that all the time."

And there's no better day to tell the mom in your life that same sentiment than Mother's Day, when they all deserve to be recognized as a Real Big Fish in both your family's pond and the world's seven seas.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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