Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Chapter II

Chapter II: The Pre-USC Volleyball Years
When I was attending Long Beach Polytechnic High School from 1937 through 1940, my family lived only four city blocks from the love of my life, the beach, on Linden Avenue in Long Beach, California. At the foot of Linden Avenue to the south on the ocean side of the Rainbow Pier there was a short stretch of beach which had two great assets - wonderful waves for bodysurfing and a volleyball court. That is where I learned to play the game. Most of us 'beachies' were dirt poor; volleyball and bodysurfing, which were free-of-charge, probably helped a lot of us to stay out of serious trouble. Linden Avenue was one terminus of the former horseshoe-shaped Rainbow Pier which was about a mile long. At the other end was Pine Avenue. The ocean was on the outside of the pier with a lagoon inside.

From Linden Avenue, following the shore-line for about one-half a mile to the north, one reached the foot of Pine Avenue. Located immediately to the south on the lagoon side, there was a volleyball court with a different quality of play. Pine Avenue had the premier beach volleyball court of Long Beach. Players had the luxury of using a rope for line markers and a water faucet with a hose to wet down and compact the sand court. The net was kept taut and was measured constantly to see that its uniform eight-foot height was maintained; it was taken down each night and stored in a locked box to keep it safe. There was also an official's platform on one of the poles holding the net. The ball was leather, not rubber like the one we used at Linden Beach. This was where the elite of Long Beach volleyball played during the summer months and on week-ends throughout the balance of the year. The quality of play was every bit the equivalent of that found at the better-known volleyball beach in Santa Monica. Many of the Pine Avenue players were members of Long Beach Y's 'A' and 'Double-A' teams.

Bob Allen, my beach buddy and a fellow Poly High student, and I were considered a couple of the better volleyball players at Linden Avenue. Very frequently he and I walked that one-half mile to Pine Avenue to play on that court; eventually, after proving that we met the Pine Avenue standard of play, we were accepted as regulars. As a result of that exposure, Bob, who was 18, and I, at 17, were given free memberships to the Long Beach Y as members of its volleyball team. This was quite an honor since the next youngest player on the team was 25 years old. Over the years a number of the Long Beach YMCA volleyball team members were rated among the top players in AAU- and USVBA-sponsored tournaments in Southern California, statewide and nationally.

At Poly Bob Allen was a star high jumper for the track team. When he spiked a ball, he achieved tremendous altitude combined with a very good sense of timing. He would arch his back, and like a spring, unwind and drive the ball with a great amount of force at a great speed. Once, while he and I were playing in a mixed men's and women's volleyball tournament - three men and three women on each team - he spiked the ball so hard it broke the wrist of a girl who tried to field it.

Bob and I played extremely well together as a team, so we decided to enter a Southern California Men's Doubles Volleyball Tournament being held at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. We placed third after being barely edged out by the Hazard brothers, also from Long Beach. It had been such a hard-fought and fatiguing match, that the Hazards, being older than the young sprouts they had just played, were so exhausted that they lost the championship match to a team Bob and I could have defeated quite handily. In those days men's indoor doubles was played on a full-court hardwood floor without any protective gear. Cuts and bruises went with the territory.

Upon graduating from Poly High in 1940, I had been offered a $100.00 scholarship by the University of California at Berkeley. I decided that it just wasn't going to be enough to sustain me very long - it would cover tuition and books, but nothing else. So, I turned it down and worked for a year, saving over $500.00. This was enough to meet the basic costs at Berkeley for one year starting in the fall of 1941. A week-end job at a Sears, Roebuck & Co. store in Oakland brought in enough to pay for extra expenses. I rowed on the Cal freshman crew and was fortunate enough to be permitted to keep up my volleyball interest by practicing regularly with the highly-regarded Embarcadero YMCA team. I knew most of the team members, having played against them when I was on the Long Beach YMCA team.

On December 7, 1941, a Sunday, I and my dorm mates at Berkeley were engrossed in studying for final examinations when one of the fellows, who had been listening to the radio in his room, yelled for all of us to drop whatever we were doing and join him quickly. The Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Because I had not completed one year of college work, I was unable to qualify for any of the programs which would have granted me a military deferral to remain in school until I graduated. I returned to Long Beach and enrolled at Long Beach Junior College where I met the girl I married in September of 1942.

Six weeks later in October 1942 I became an Army private, receiving my basic training in Infantry at Camp Roberts, California. From there I attended the City College of New York under the Army Specialized Training Program to study German language and culture. After two quarters at CCNY, I was shipped to Camp Ritchie, Maryland, the Military Intelligence Training Center, for intensive training in interrogation and counter-intelligence fundamentals.

From Ritchie we were shipped to the Military Intelligence pool in Broadway, England. I joined five others to make up Interrogation of Prisoners of War Team (IPW) 98 which in turn was assigned to the 94th Infantry Division. The 94th became part of George Patton's Third Army shortly after the Germans launched their counter-offensive at Bastogne. The 94th fought with Patton from France across Germany reaching Czechoslovakia in early 1945. There our IPW team established a counter intelligence headquarters in one of the villages. Each Czech village had a volleyball team including ours - it was the national sport. I was accepted as a member of the Czech team from my village See Appendix I-1.

After being discharged in November 1945, I enrolled at USC in the spring of 1946 and graduated in June 1947. Upon entering graduate school at USC, I was assigned a teaching position in the German Department. I played a little volleyball here and there on a hit and miss basis.