When I think of U.S. men’s volleyball, thoughts of 1984 and 1988 Olympic gold medals come to mind. U.S. men also took bronze at Barcelona in 1992. But to look at boys high school volleyball nowadays, the successes of the past seem only an aberration. How was it all possible? Yes, many of the high school kids are very serious about the sport, though many schools seem to have “athletes” that turn up after the winter sports seasons. A lot of these guys seem to have little knowledge of the game, and appear to just be filling time until their main sport starts again. Also, the uniforms that players wear at many schools look like their big brothers’ hand-me-downs. In contrast, most girls teams appear more sharply outfitted in the fall. Though this might sound superficial to some, it gives an indication that somebody cares.
Back to the guys, coaches tell me that high school boys volleyball is big in Southern California. And a check of the Olympic rosters would bear this out – - the medal-winning U.S. men’s Olympic teams of the past, for instance, had a strong SoCal influence. Of course, the weather in that part of the state generally is fairer and warmer throughout most of the year, and many folks hone their skills at the beach. The same holds true for places like Brazil and Hawaii, where both forms of volleyball – - beach and court — are strong. Still, places like China, Japan, the former Soviet bloc and a number of nations of Western Europe also have shown their mettle indoors.
Volleyball is a U.S. invention, exported to the world reportedly by American GIs during the world wars and periods of occupation. But like the “British Invasion” of rock-and-roll music, volleyball needed folks from other places to bring it back to our shores.
Men’s volleyball at its best is Karch Kiraly, Craig Buck, Pat Powers and Steve Timmons. “Sideout,” a 1990 film with actor Peter Horton as an aging volleyball stud who proves he still has game, is a neat, though obscure, sports movie usually reserved, unfortunately, for late-night TV. But the enthusiasm of Hollywood and the success of the men’s national team team in past years seems to not have captured the imagination of the entire nation. Seems like high-quality high school boys volleyball exists somewhere, but you’ll have to drive a ways to find it.
While we’re on the subject of volleyball, riddle me this. Girls volleyball, in contrast to the boys, is huge stuff in these parts. High schools have a state championship and club ball thrives. Despite all this, the U.S. women’s medal take in the Olympics consists of a silver in 1984 and a bronze in 1992. Some things in sports just don’t make sense.
— Mike McGreehan