On Your Marc: 4/19/16

Dayton, the start of it all

By Marc Katz

It was a dark and stormy winter—yeah, with snow piled up to your knees.

It was 1977 and also about 2,000 miles from the epicenter of volleyball in this country, and Dayton whiffed, but think about it, Dayton, Ohio, was never going to plant a flag for volleyball even though our city played a large part in the first Olympic medal the United States ever won—glittering gold in 1984.

Today, the national training center for U.S. volleyball is in Anaheim, Calif., and the U.S. Olympic headquarters are in Colorado Springs, Colo., where Doug Beal announced recently he was stepping down as CEO of the USVBA, ending a 46-year career as a player, coach and administrator.

He was the guy I met in February, 1977, after he pulled into one of those snow drifts and pulled his duffle bags filled with volleyball clothing and equipment out of his trunk. That was his luggage—duffle bags. He was being paid $12,000 to coach the team and teach at Wright State University.

He was much better off than two players, Ralph Smith and Joe Battalia, who drove from California to Dayton in a vintage Volkswagen, wearing every pair of sweatpants and sweatshirts they had—all at once—on the way.

Full disclosure alert: I helped Beal write his book, “Spike,” about the 1984 Gold Medal performance. Without going into all the details, he continued to do Gold Medal work telling the story, and I failed him on many counts. It was not a best seller, but if you’re a Daytonian, you can be proud of your part in the narrative.

Frank Gunn, a local volleyball enthusiast, convinced as many people as he could to open a volleyball training center in Dayton the way European teams did. Promised through the Dayton Chamber of Commerce were jobs for the players while they trained, which didn’t really materialize.

From Cleveland, Beal also had to know luring quality volleyball players to Dayton, find them jobs and qualify a team for the Olympics was going to be next to impossible. And yet, if you roamed the old Roosevelt Center (with its short ceiling), Wright State’s original gymnasium and Sinclair Community College’s gym in those days, you’d see a bunch of tall guys with fading tans wearing USA logos wandering around at night, when practices were held, after work, for those who had work.

“Dayton is where we got our start, and I shall always be indebted to Dayton for that,” Beal said, and has repeated, many times.

For almost two years, Dayton had the team. Beal used a tiny office at Wright State, where two tall metal filing cabinets held the team’s clothing and equipment.

Job placement for the players—all college grads or close—included loading railroad cars from a food distributorship.

In fairness to employers, they had to work their schedules around the availability of the players, who often were off to far-reaching destinations for events.

By the 1980 Olympics, the U.S. team failed to qualify, a moot point since the United States boycotted the Moscow Games after Russia invaded Afghanistan.

Make up your own interpretation here.

The U.S. team moved its headquarters to San Diego, where volleyball players didn’t have to drive through the snow to reach Dayton. They just had to walk across the sand to the nearest net.

A little more history. Did you know volleyball was invented in this country, at a YMCA in Holyoke, Mass., in 1895, just four years after basketball appeared down the road in Springfield, Mass.?

For all that, in 1949, when the world volleyball championships were held, the U.S. didn’t even enter. When the Olympics added volleyball in 1964, the U.S. finished ninth, followed by a seventh in 1968 and didn’t qualify again until 1984.

“The foundation had been laid in 1977 and 1988 in Dayton,” Beal said. “Winning the gold medal and doing it in Los Angeles, the hotbed of U.S. Volleyball, was a special victory.”

Safe to say U.S. volleyball teams don’t use filing cabinets to store their gear any more. Beal oversees an organization with a $3.5 million operating budget. The men’s team, which now trains in Anaheim, Calif., also won Gold in 1988 and 2008, finishing with a Bronze in 1992. It won the 2015 FIVB World Cup.

The women’s team has won four medals since 1984, three Silvers and a Bronze. The team won the 2014 FIVB World Championship.

There is a paraplegic team. Much of the success is attributed to Beal, an Ohio State grad who has a daughter playing volleyball at Minnesota and a son playing at Ohio State. Excuse me, THE Ohio State.

Since Dayton, volleyball has found a warm-weather site near most of its players, and the U.S. Olympic Committee moved its headquarters from New York City to Colorado Springs – not uncontested – in 1978.

There are now several Olympic training sites—several in cold-weather cities—around the country. Dayton is not one of them.

But if you want to take a look at where it all started, there are some tall metal filing cabinets stored out at WSU you might want to see.

Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at katzcopsnsports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@daytoncitypaper.com.

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Marc Katz
Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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