I took a trip to Chicago this past weekend, missing my own kids' homecomings to attend one of my own - hoping in part to be there to take part in the 2016 celebration that wasn't to be. Volleyball in 2016 Rio will be very big - that city hosted the first FIVB World Championships of Beach Volleyball over 20 years ago - so our sport will again be on center stage for the world. We will be able to watch all the events live since we are in similar time zones and not halfway around the world - just not the same hemisphere.
My reason for the journey was to spend time at the 2009 Asics Girls Volleyball Challenge, while also working with the region's coaches thanks to the help of Illinois Performance VB Club. Scott Smith, club director, has a great place to train out of in the Walker Center - and I LOVE his biz card which says "SERVING ATHLETES; SETTING STANDARDS; ATTACKING GOALS"
So much of Saturday I sat in bleachers at Mother McCauley, and watched the silver and gold playoff rounds, until the final match late that afternoon. The "Mighty Macs" gym office had another wonderful sign that said "Tradition Never Graduates" which clearly was evident throughout the gyms being competed in.
When I do clinics in a HS gym, the first things I want to look at are their trophy cases and gym banner hangings. You can learn a lot about a program from these two homes of tradition - and at Mother McCauley, banners for State Championship Titles to Final Eight participation fill up both sides of the rafters. Nancy Pedersen arrived at McCauley in 1983, while her husband Niels created the JOV club "Second City," and these two great coaches and leaders helped grow the junior community in the Great Lakes region at both the prep and club level to new heights. There are also some jerseys retired on the wall - where the players names you can find now also giving back to the sport by coaching, another gift we are all better for.
The Catholic Youth Organization volleyball programming has been the starting point of the pipeline of talent and tradition for over 30 years. Where California has its tradition that includes the beach, the Midwest has taken the CYO programming to help establish strongholds in Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, and Louisiana, just to name a few states. Partnering with schools - both public and private -- to grow the game at the younger levels has never been more valuable, as we work to give even more boys and girls the chance for volleyball to be their sport. The CYO program is a shining example of this important part of development.
The Challenge began in 1987, and was won by Muncie Burris...McCauly won their own event in 1991 and 1998, while Mira Costa, who was there this year but did not medal, won in 1988 and 2006. Columbia Heights out of Minnesota won in 1990, St. Marys from Stockton, CA won in 1993, and Lincoln East out of Nebraska snagged it in 1994. This year, 12 teams from Wisconsin, Iowa, California, Florida, Utah, Kentucky, and Nebraska joined the 12 teams from the host state of Illinois, to determine the champion. I watched outstanding play, consumed the obligatory $1 bags of popcorn, talked with great long time coaches like Lisa (Arce) Zimmerman (Mira Costa) and Ted Schulte (Wisconsin/Badger), and officials, including USAV RVA Great Lakes Commissioner Sandy Abbinanti. I also won several trivia contests, in that while talking with Donna Smith about all those banners in the main gym, they started back near when I began coaching - with a 1977 State Championship banner being the first. Who won that first title? None other than Donna Smith, the Great Lakes Assistant Commissioner. She coached McCauley for four years, before leaving to raise her children as a semi-stay-at-home mom. That means being home all day, getting a babysitter for an hour while her husband came home and she headed off to officiate, to bring the family income while still having a parent at home. Many know her more now as a great official, but her roots are back in coaching...
The team that won this year, in a 3 set slugfest over Joliet Catholic Academy of Illinois, was some team from Kentucky. Their coach is the USAV RVA Kentucky Region Commissioner, Ron Kordes. I "assume" you know who I am talking about, but to be sure, Assumption won. Just like they did in
How is THAT for tradition? Standing on the shoulders of their past role models, Assumption players formed a team where everyone was strong and the sum made up more than the parts. JCA played great as a team too, winning the first set before losing 24-26 in the third game. Every player, from the bench to the starters, were a joy to watch, and I especially liked seeing under-six-foot-tall seniors #1 Annemarie Hickey (5'8") and #2 Alyssa Warren (5'9") pounding point after point from the outside -very inspirational to all. In the end, I thought it came down to the team experience of Assumption in such situations, and the serving of Taylor Allgeier, a 5'11"junior who delivered either aces or resulting third ball attacks by JCA that her talented Assumption teammates were able to convert for points.
The rest of my journey was shared with coaches, parents and players on Sunday in a very productive and fun clinic where I got a chance to test the newest "Beyond Beijing Coaches Appreciation" webinar information we are bringing online this season for all USAV coaches. This will allow RVA Commissioners and their staff to communicate and connect to the returning coaches, and for USAV to be able to share the latest research and training ideas with these coaches.
It will not be mandatory, but is simply a chance to say THANK YOU to the coaches returning again to help us grow the game, get the latest information out, and chat about any other questions or topics they might have. Retention of coaches and officials is vital to the growth of our game, and while officials gather almost annually to discuss the newest information from the top, we have not done enough of the same for coaches. Who knows, there might even be a short appearance by our National Team coaches Hugh, Alan, or Karch during the couple of hours we share.