Friday, August 29, 2014


When you drive into Holyoke, Massachusetts, you are greeted with this sign: “Holyoke, the birthplace of volleyball.”

How can you not want to stop?

Holyoke is buttressed against the Connecticut river next to Springfield, Mass; the home to the Basketball Hall of Fame, a free standing building with three floors of inductees, interactive exhibits and memorabilia for the old and young fan alike. In the middle is a court with 8 baskets and from the moment the doors open, the courts are filled with kids, parents and grandparents shooting hoops. Exiting through the busy gift shop you feel like you have a better grasp of the sport and the people who made it great.

The Volleyball Hall is, much like our sport, in modest surroundings. It is being temporarily housed in the green belt of the Holyoke Heritage State Park. The Volleyball Hall shares a building, fittingly, with the Children’s Museum off of Dwight Street next to a canal that was once used to haul lumber and cotton. 

When you enter you are greeted with huge pictures of Karch and Flo Hymen on the front windows. You walk into the foyer and see the flags of the world above you and two glass cases celebrating the women in our sport and the Collegiate champions of the past decades. The three dollar entry fee seemed like a steal for a volleyball fan. Upon entering, the one level one room space is packed with exhibits and in looking around in offices and storage, one would think the need to find bigger quarters is upon them faster then they may have thought.

There is a half a volleyball court with a net against the wall for photo opportunities and a Gold Medal visitors can have their picture taken with. On the left of the entry is all the inductees’ plaques. You can see our history in these inductees, since the Hall was founded in 1978, there are over 120 and their stories and contributions fill the air and trickle over into the other exhibits.  The inductees are listed in four categories: players, coaches, officials and leaders. 

William G. Morgan was the first inductee since he invented the sport in 1895 IN Holyoke and he has an entire section of photos and memorabilia given to that historic moment. Reading the early rules of the game called Mintonette is funny when you look at where the game is today.

There are several beach volleyball exhibits and pictures but something that could catch the eye was this exhibit: The spectacle of beach volleyball that we know today, started with a kiss 57 years ago.

While there are several Americans inducted into the Hall, it is very much an international offering. Signed volleyballs from historic matches in college and the Olympics are around the room and a small gift shop, with just a few shirts and trinkets are there for modest prices as you leave. 

If you are a volleyball fan you will enjoy your time at the Hall. If you are a fanatic you will revel in the history and memorabilia throughout the room.  It’s well work the time and the three dollars and hey, help them out with a donation as you leave or click on their website and donate at

Oh yea, the kiss! Almost forgot…

On the beaches of Santa Monica August 10-11th of 1957, the game of beach volleyball became big time. The top two players at that time, Gene Selznick and Bernie Holtzman saw that they needed to promote their sport in order to see the sport AND the prize money and participation grow. The game itself had very few big hitters or blockers like today, so points were long and drawn out, pass after pass after pass. The two knew they needed something.

Enter a friend of theirs, promoter Jack Backer who had discovered and was promoting a blonde bombshell  of an actress named Greta Thyssen and asked her to come to the tournament to be the Queen of the beach and give a kiss to the winners. 

Selznick and Holtzman continued to build the model for what would become the AVP later on. They enlisted volunteers to work the tournament; they put up a sound system and an announcer who would break up long rallies with announcements and anecdotes about the players on the other 26 teams in the tournament, anecdotes supplied by Holtzman. The tournament was a rousing success and in the end, Greta Thyssen gave a kiss to the champions, Selznick and Holtzman that was covered by newspapers and magazines alike. Beach volleyball was born.

You can find this and many more stories of the pioneers and the best our sport has to offer at the Hall. Check out their website or plan a trip to visit. Chances are you won’t be disappointed.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Reaching for walls.....

Fort Pulaski sits quietly now on Cockspur Island surrounded on the north and south by the Savannah River across from Tybee Island. If Georgia was a profile of Homer Simpson, Fort Pulaski is the belly button.  Rebuilt three times, it stood as is, being built in 1829 at a cost of $1 million using 25 million bricks and taking 18 years to finish.

Two weeks after South Carolina had seceded from the Union starting the Civil War in late 1860, the Georgia militia was ordered to seize Fort Pulaski and it became part of the confederacy once Georgia seceded on January 19, 1861. President Abraham Lincoln ordered blockades of the southern ports and by the end of the year, with economic woes confronting them, the Confederates receded and gave up some strategic points of which to launch an attack on the Fort.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee, knowing an attack was inevitable, wasn’t concerned however; walls nearly 8 feet thick of solid brick with massive masonry piers was only part of the Fort’s defense. One U.S. Official speaking of its impervious  reputation said, “You might as well bombard the Rocky Mountains!”  It was a mile away from the closest attack point, Tybee Island. And since Union guns could only muster rounds that could travel 700 yards, Lee told the Fort’s commander, Colonel Charles H. Olmstead that the Union guns could, “make it pretty warm for you here with shells, but they cannot breach your walls at that distance.”

What Lee didn’t know was that the Union had experimented with a new weapon: a rifled canon that used grooves on the inside of the canon barrel that caused the bullet shaped shell to spiral, gathering both distance and accuracy. The new rifled canons had a range of almost 8,500 yards. A new science was about to make a difference.

On April 10 of 1862, responding to Olmstead’s rebuttal of surrender began an assault on the fort. Shells from the rifled canons slammed into the walls of the fort shaking the landmark’s foundation. Shell after shell slammed into the Pulaski’s eastern facade, putting chunks and finally holes into the thought to be impenetrable fortress.  One shell went through a hole in the wall and skated across the Fort’s infield and settled just feet from the powder room where all the rest of the ammunition was stored. Had the shell gone a few more feet, the fort would have been leveled by its own firepower.

Col. Olmstead surrendered in 30 hours and the world was stunned at how quickly Fort Pulaski had been taken down. A new technology had seen to it’s demise and ushered in a new wave of artillery that is still used today.

Fort Pulaski sits as a National Monument today but it’s also a historic fable of overconfidence and hubris. It’s also a lesson in how new technology, when embraced, can make a difference.

The good folks at the Olympic training helm are constantly working on how to do things better: teaching our athletes from the mental, optical, physical and even emotional points of view. We, as coaches, need to embrace changes as they happen. A PowerPoint entitled ‘Debunking the Myths of Volleyball” has taken science and shown that some of what we have taught our entire coaching lives, is wrong. Are we as coaches willing to accept the fact that we didn’t know then what we know now and we have to change the way we train? At the very least, are you familiar with the science of Motor LearningTheory

Imagine an Audio Visual teacher in high school that started in the 1980’s and NOT keeping up with technology. They are threading the film strips and the reel to reel tapes while you are downloading the entire text book on a phone the size of the box of red pens on her desk.

A Chinese proverb states, “A wise man adapts himself to circumstances, as water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it.” As more and more information becomes available, are you, as a coach, embracing those ideas that are credible and easily adaptable to your team?

Take a history lesson. Embrace change. It can make a difference.