Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Chapter VI

Chapter VI: USC Volleyball Defends National Crown
One major challenge remained for the Trojans before an otherwise highly successful 1949-1950 volleyball season drew to a close - the defense of the national collegiate crown they won in Los Angeles in 1949. Although USC's showing thus far throughout its second year of competing had gone a long way toward allaying the doubts of some who thought USC's championship last year was a fluke because it lacked the participation of some of the so-called collegiate powerhouses, there still lingered a wait and see attitude on the part of a few die-hards. Some college volleyball teams had been around much longer than had USC, such as Springfield College, Earlham College and the Florida State University. Then there were the south-of-the-border champions from the University of Mexico that had claimed the Mexican and Central American titles. Perhaps, by calling it an international collegiate volleyball tournament, USVBA organizers had thought it might serve as a first step in creating a climate for ultimate acceptance of volleyball as an Olympic Games sport. The attitude of some to USC's 'sheer attack' style of volleyball is best summarized in the May 12, 1950 article in the Knoxville Journal Sports section:

"The wiry University of Mexico players, appearing like midgets in comparison with the Trojans, were a sentimental favorite with the crowd. But, it was Southern California physical strength that carried them through the matches. See Appendix G-8 Pg. 6"

The primary problem that the USC team had to face lay in finding a means of financing the transportation and housing requirements for sending the team to Knoxville, Tennessee on May 12, 13 & 14, 1950. Dr. Alex Aloia went to bat for the team with a memo to Dean Hyink requesting a minimum of $200.00, which would cover only a portion of the expenses for the trip. See Appendix G-1 Paul Helms of the Helms Foundation sent me a check in the amount of $100.00. See Appendix G-2 In the final analysis the university responded generously by issuing an expense voucher for $450.00; and, the team was able to obtain special train chair-car rates from USC supporter, George Moran, Los Angeles City Passenger Agent for the Southern Pacific Railroad. See Appendix G-3 Team members had to make advance arrangements with the chapters of their fraternities at the University of Tennessee to furnish basic housing and meals for themselves and those members of the team who did not belong to a fraternity. See Appendix G-4 Some funds were also raised by passing the hat around at USC sporting events. Team members were left to their own devices to finance their personal needs - proud parents came in handy. Entry fees were paid from money I had earned during the previous USC football season supervising the gates and tunnels of the Los Angeles Coliseum. See Appendix I-4

USC and the College of Medical Evangelists were the only two California colleges represented in the Knoxville nationals. However, the teams USC hoped to meet in order to prove once and for all that they were true champions did participate: Springfield College, Florida State University, Earlham College and the University of Mexico. During the double elimination tourney CME routed Florida State 15-1 & 15-4 See Appendix G-22, while Mexico had a more difficult time with Springfield 10-6 & 15-12 Ibid.. Earlham lost to the University of Tennessee 13-10 & 15-9 Ibid.. USC drew a bye and then dumped Tennessee 15-7 & 15-3 Ibid.. Mexico had a tough match with the doctors-to-be from CME, but prevailed in close games 15-12 & 14-12 Ibid.. USC then met Mexico for the winner's bracket final game, winning the first game 12-10 Ibid., then losing the next two by two points each 14-16 & 12-14 Ibid.. The low passing, low set-ups and quick spiking of the smaller Mexicans was a type of play which USC had never encountered anywhere in California tournaments. It took them by surprise.

Now relegated to the loser's bracket which they must win if they were to retain their crown, USC met their practice mates, CME, in the final match. CME had dispatched Earlham and Springfield in order to meet USC. The plucky players on the CME team had the spirit and the heart, but lacked depth. In all fairness, they were exhausted when they lost to USC in the loser's bracket final 15-4 & 15-6 Ibid.. Now USC was finally in position to meet Mexico again, this time for the national title. They had to defeat the scrappy Mexicans in two matches - the first, to even the score by giving each team one match lost; the second, to saddle the Mexico team with two matches lost to only one for USC.

Because USC had not lost until the third round in the winner's bracket, they had only to meet one team to win in the loser's bracket - CME, giving them time to rethink their loss to Mexico and to make adjustments for their unorthodox style of play. The USC team also regained self-esteem by playing and defeating in a practice session the Houston YMCA See Appendix G-10 Pg. 6 which ultimately placed third in the Open division of the tournament. In retrospect, it was a rather amusing experience because Houston did not take USC very seriously at the outset of play, using mostly reserves. As USC was in the process of making a rout of the game, more and more of the better Houston players entered the game. When USC finally won, the entire first-string Houston team was on the floor including two players who were later named first-team All-Americans for their tournament play: Joe Johanson and Sid Nachlas.

The ripples from the shockwave created by that event were felt in every corner of the building. Suddenly, USC had won unprecedented respect. When they later defeated Mexico 15-8, 7-14 & 13-10 See Appendix G-22 in the first finals match, and then continued by overpowering the south-of-the-border team 13-9 & 14-8 Ibid. in the second and final match, USC had won the admiration of everyone involved with the tournament, including those who had openly expressed doubts about USC's ability to come from behind. It was a very emotional and satisfying moment for this underrated team like no other. They had proven that they were true champions in every way, dispelling all doubt.

Four members of the USC team were chosen to be on the first and second All-American teams See Appendix G-7: Robbie Duron and Don Patterson on the first team; John Brame and Ed Colburn on the second. In 1949 Robbie had been named to the second All-American team. Brame, a quarterback on the USC freshman football team, had been brought to Knoxville as a reserve spiker. Given the opportunity to play in the tournament, he rose to the occasion and came completely into his own. I was never more proud of any group of men in my life See Appendix G-17, with the exception of those with whom I served overseas in combat during World War II. I was also very proud of the CME team for its third place finish and the naming of Bob Voelker to the first-string All-American team See Appendix G-7 & G-21 Pages. 1 & 2. After their hard-fought victory the USC team received a great deal of much-deserved media attention both in Knoxville and Los Angeles. See Appendices G-8 All Pages; G-9 All Pages; G-10 All Pages; & G-11 Official volleyballdom was also very kind in its write-ups. See Appendices G-12, G-13 Parts 1 & 2, G-14, G-15, G-16 & G-19.