Tagged Volleyball History
In the 1960’s and 1970’s professional sport in the United States bore little resemblance to what we have become used to. The famous leagues (NFL, NBA, NHL),while fully professional, were relatively small and had to constantly fighting for their survival. Individual franchises were even less stable and players were paid so little that they often had to work ‘real’ jobs in the off season. In that climate the costs to enter professional sport as an owner were quite low, even if the risk was high. Essentially, any reasonably well off business man with some passion for sport and a few friends could start up a league and / or a franchise, and many did. Leagues such as the USFL (American Football), ABA (basketball) and WHA (ice hockey) tried to challenge the status quo and managed to last a few years before collapsing and being absorbed by their more established rivals.
With this backdrop a few wealthy men led by Berry Gordy, the Motown Records president, decided that volleyball was the next big sport and established the International Volleyball Association, as a professional volleyball league which lasted from 1975 to 1980. The first big attraction in the league was NBA great Wilt Chamberlain who some years before had taken up beach volleyball while rehabilitating a knee injury. Other players were attracted from all over the world, including Olympic Champion Ed Skorek and World Champion Stan Gosciniak from Poland and Bebeto from Brazil, who would later coach Brazil and Italy to the World Championships and Olympic medals, as well as all the best American players of the time. At the time volleyball was considered to be a strictly amateur sport, even though players throughout western Europe were paid to play, and this was the first official ‘professional’ league to exist. As a reward for participation, all players were immediately banned from international competition by the FIVB and many had to be officially reinstated as ‘amateurs’ in later years before they were allowed to participate in international competition.
To make the league more attractive the owners put in place a few rule changes. A coloured ball was used. Names were printed on the backs of playing shirts. Rotation was abandoned, so that there were frontrow and backrow specialists. And most importantly, men and women played together; each team had to have two women on the court at all times. The league was marketed in classic American 70’s style. The most famous promotional activity was giving a six pack of beer to every spiker who hit one of the female defenders in the face (see page 2 of this Sports Illustrated article). As with other upstart leagues, its existence was short and volatile, with franchises blinking in and out of various cities and indeed existence. But there were many positives. One ex player to whom I spoke about it, raved about the level of competition (‘It was the toughest volleyball I ever played), as well as the overall experience, and pointed out that many of those initial rule changes have since been adopted by the FIVB in some form or another.
I’d often wondered what those games were like. As of today, I no longer have to wonder. I stumbled across a few youtube clips from the playoffs of the final full season the league played, in 1979. They are pretty cool.
This is delightful, Mark. Thank you for such care in sharing.
I am fascinated by the sociology of knowledge and ideas.
Thanks, Keith 🙂
And nice blog post by you 😉
Mark, all I know is your dad Wally, such a pioneer in Aussie VB, would be damn proud of what you are doing overseas and in growing the game in so many ways. Thanks mate
Thanks for your thoughts and for taking the time to leave a message.
Lots of fond memories playing in the IVA, especially the games between Los Angeles and San Diego in ’75 and playing Tucson and the finals in both ’78 and ’79.
Then there were the on court fist fights between El Paso and San Diego as well as Tucson and Santa Barbara. Obviously, the competition was intense.
Great clips!! many long ago memories. I was Santa Barbara Spikers General Manager back in 1978 and 1979. You may not realize in 1978 the finals from Santa Barbaras was a delayed telecast on the ESPN Network which was in its infancy, not the ESPN of today. They were desperate for programming and the IVA was equally desperate for exposure. I often think that if the league had stayed afloat for a few more years, we might be watching live Professional Volleyball today on ESPN. The knock on the sport was the co-ed aspect and how many thought it was a gimmick. I think it added to the potential audience and as these clips will illustrate the women were defensive specialists and their skills were evident. Thanks for posting the clips and hello to the post above from our middle blocker of the Spikers, the 6’9″ Peter Stefaniuk. Are you freezing up in Canada Peter? Hope not!
Is it possible ‘Hollywood’ is code for O’Hara? 😉 I have your book.
Thanks for the message. I hope one day to see the documentary that was made.
I was a Spikers fan in Santa Barbara when I was a kid! My dad used to take me to the games. I still have an old Spikers visor.Thanks for finding the videos.
I used to watch the Santa Barbara Spikers when I was a kid. I remember Bebeto and Stefaniuk. The women were great athletes. It was a very entertaining league.
Thank you Mark Lebedew. I knew exactly what it was like to be there. For I was one of their loudest fans. I found myself in the stands wearing an IVA shirt I won at one of Byron Shewman’s volleyball Camps. I still have the shirt. The games were so exciting. The crowds loved the team. Tucson Sky and the league lit a fire in Tucson for volleyball leagues and weekend volleyball in parks all over town. Every weekend you could find games at many parks. It was a great time. Thanks for the memories.