Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Chapter III

Chapter III: USC Volleyball - The 1948/1949 Season
I had started my studies at USC in 1946 much too soon after arriving home from 18 months of overseas Army duty. During that period I had seen combat in front of and behind enemy lines serving in all five major European campaigns in General George S. Patton's Third Army. I was 23 years old when I came home - the past three of which had been spent in the Army. Starting my studies only three months after being discharged just was not long enough to allow me to adjust to civilian life; especially as a former student now married and lacking a job or career to which to return.

After graduating from USC in June 1947, my teaching career began that September as an instructor in the Department of German at USC. I was still on the GI Bill of Rights which paid for my tuition for graduate school plus a $95.00 per month subsistence allowance. My wife had given up her architecture studies at USC to take a full-time position as the patent draftsperson for North American Aviation in El Segundo. It paid very well, since she was solely responsible for comprehending and converting the patentable ideas of North American's largely European scientists and researchers into acceptable drawings to be submitted to the U.S. Patent Office in cooperation with the company's patent attorneys.

Our first child, a son, who was born in May 1947, was left in the care of daytime baby-sitters. In addition to teaching German, I was offered the opportunity to translate a never-ending supply of German documents on microfilm rolls dealing with jet propulsion and rocketry for the Office of Naval Research at USC. Given the choice of working at the rate of $5.00 per page or $5.00 per hour, I chose the per page option. Although I was able to complete an average of 5 pages per hour in two-hour stretches, because the work was so intense and fatiguing, I was able to work for no more than two hours each day two to three days per week.

The pressure of pursuing graduate studies in German and International Relations, teaching, translating, remaining active in the Army Reserve, being a husband and new father was extremely nerve-wracking. After one grueling year of that routine, I felt a need for some sort of physical diversion to help me maintain a mental equilibrium. I contacted Dr. Alex Aloia, USC's Director of Recreational Activities, in order to determine whether he was aware of any student interest in establishing a volleyball club and eventually a recognized team. He indicated he could give me the names of some volleyball players on campus, but, as far as he knew, nothing had been done to form a club or team. He encouraged me to take on the task, all the while admonishing me that funds for such an endeavor were extremely limited. If I desired, he said he would have interested students contact me, and suggested I speak with the Daily Trojan sports editor to see if the paper would run an article about my interest in forming a volleyball team. Alex said that he would allow us to use the USC gym once and possibly twice a week for practice and for holding matches with other college teams.

He informed me that any team expenses would be have to paid by me out-of-pocket - he would do his best to see that I was reimbursed. After I explained that my income was limited, he suggested that I contact Al Ewen, USC's Director of Finance See Appendix I-4, to see if he could use me in some capacity, perhaps, as a gatekeeper or usher in the Coliseum on football game days. I started as a gatekeeper, eventually assuming the responsibility for supervising 25% of the gates and tunnels . The money I earned for my game duties were used to fund tournament entry fees and other expenses for my future volleyball teams.

Quite a number of interested volleyball players called me. I had heard of others who had already established themselves as being very fine players. However, when I contacted the latter, some were a bit skittish about joining a group that had no standing in the volleyball community and was not recognized by USC. The players that did come out for practice shaped up quite rapidly, most of whom had never played competitive volleyball in a gym on a hardwood floor. They were your typical undisciplined, self-taught Summer beach volleyball players.

I made contact with some of my former volleyball associates from my YMCA and AAU days before the war in order to get information about entering my team in tournaments planned for the 1948-49 season. As an unknown and untried team we were relegated to the 'A' league at first. As we put a few tournaments under our belt in which we finished mostly at the top, we were allowed by volleyball officials to participate with the "big boys" in the 'AA' tournaments. With that recognition from the volleyball community, we had no difficulty enticing the better players at USC to join the team.Our first major tournament was held in Pomona in December 1948; the USC team placed a surprising third. By February 1949 the team had gained in experience and strength sufficiently to win the Whittier Tournament defeating the former Long Beach Y state champions. The team went on to win the State YMCA-Open and AAU championship on March 12, 1949 and the Southern California YMCA Olympics on April 2, 1949 See Appendices A-2, A-4 & A-5. The USC team was now firmly established as a power with which the volleyball community had to reckon.

USC's style of play was known as 'power volleyball' which literally blasted opponents off the floor See Appendix G-14. We used four spikers and two set-up men who shifted into the center after the ball was served. Our blockers formed a semicircle of three See Appendix C-15 to deflect an opponent's spike from any direction. Our spikers were trained to face the net head-on giving them the option of seeing opposing blockers and spiking the ball in any direction, either through the blockers or off their hands with the ball landing out-of-bounds. Their timing was honed to such a point that they could make a successful inbounds spike from half-way back in the court. Our players were young enough to learn and adapt to new concepts of play as opposed to their opponents who for the most part were older and more set in their self-learned style of play.

At the same time that USC was achieving recognition as a first-rate volleyball team, I determined that what had been wrought at USC was not an anomaly. This same scenario could be reenacted at any college or university in the country; particularly, in Southern California where so many students played beach volleyball during the Summer months. A collegiate volleyball program had the advantage of working with young trainable talents who had not yet firmly established a possibly-corrupt style of play. They were pliable and could be trained to develop and employ successful and effective ways to play the game.

It became obvious to me that the future of volleyball lay in the hands of our youth. It was just a matter of time and circumstance before volleyball was firmly ensconced in the athletic departments of the colleges and universities. I determined to hasten that process to the best of my ability and available time to devote toward that end.
Eventually, it would have to become an officially recognized Olympic sport. By the time we had won our second consecutive national volleyball title in 1950, some of volleyball's movers and shakers also saw the handwriting on the wall and began placing obstacles in my path. They succeeded in delaying, but not halting the inevitable for a period of about ten years; however, their tactics, in conjunction with a slow and laborious sport recognition policy in place at most institutions of higher learning, effectively prevented me from continuing to play a role in that process.

In early 1949 I requested Alex Aloia to allow me to hold a Southern California Collegiate Doubles Volleyball Tournament at USC. See Appendix B-1 My intent was to draw out whatever players were available on campus at Southern California institutions of higher learning. The names of those participating could then be turned over to their respective athletic directors in order to establish a nucleus around which six-member teams could be formed. The tournament was held on March 26, 1949 under the auspices of the USC Volleyball Club and the USC Recreation Association at USC. Thirty-two doubles teams entered See Appendix B-2 representing a number of colleges and universities. The team of Ives and Morey from Long Beach City College See Appendix B-4 eked out a win over the team of Archer and Solari from USC. After graduation these players went on to become members of nationally-recognized YMCA and Athletic Club teams.