Missing John Armuth

By John Kessel | Aug. 31, 2012, 12 a.m. (ET)

Wednesday at the London 2012 Paralympics was “Preliminary Inquiry” day – where the team uniforms are checked to make sure they were made to the guidelines of the International Paralympic Committee and the World Organization of Volleyball for the Disabled (WOVD). The teams I checked were batting about .200, with variations from nations having huge logos of their national federation (this is not allowed, only the country flag and 3 letter code – that is why you see our Olympic and Paralympic teams not wearing the USA Volleyball logo, it is forbidden at this world level), to player names being too small (television needs large as possible). The teams were sent this “how to” guideline a year ago, yet most still err in some way or another.

We also check the rosters and passports, as spelling mistakes happen (not good for the media) and staff changes were frequent for various reasons including tragedies back home. Probably the most genuinely spirited teams here is Rwanda, who under the guidance of Pieter Karreman, have qualified from the African zone. I first met Pieter two years ago while working the World Championships in Edmond, Oklahoma. He has been living away from his friends and family in Holland for several years, working to help the sitting volleyball program grow almost as a volunteer getting his expenses covered. Check out this YouTube clip of the team to get a sense of that great spirit with which they play the game we all love.

One nite Pieter joined John Armuth, long time USAV junior leader, who was in Oklahoma on his own time to help me photograph the event. We celebrated John’s 59th birthday together, and his retirement from teaching for over 30 years. Armuth’s mom and dad had passed and left him a farm, and he had bought a new sports car and was loving life. John had been a part of our USAV junior division for decades, and we had first met when I was doing a CAP coaching course in the 1980s, and he worked tirelessly at both the high school and club level to grow the game with USA Volleyball and the Hoosier RVA.

He found one of our Paralympic sitting volleyball medalists, Brenda Maymon, and also helped three-time Paralympian, Kendra Lancaster, at the high school level in Indiana. He followed their success with great pride as they won a bronze medal in 2004 while in high school and a silver in 2008. One of my favorite moments of the 2004 Athens Paralympics were with Kendra, as I served as team leader, a position that this year is being performed so capably by the wonderful Cecile Reynaud, long time Florida State head coach and USAV leader/CAP clinician. You can read those blogs I posted daily 8 years ago here, if interested. This time as a jury member, my blogging is going to be very limited, and instead you can see what Kendra, Katie and Cecile are writing about in their blogs.

Kendra is an arm amputee, a real disadvantage in the sitting game as you move with both legs on the court, while much of the game is played above the head. Kendra’s prosthetic hand was falling apart at the fingers, from all the high speed blocking, serving and setting going on. So we journeyed cross the village to the Otto Bock center where the technicians there inserted thicker, stronger wires into her “hand” and shaped it a bit more volleyball set like, while still keeping a shape that allowed her to also block. The center was filled with athletes getting their prosthetics fixed in some way, including getting better fits to their unique situation. One of my favorite moments was before the medal ceremony. Kendra was off the floor in the stands and had removed her arm to put on the US Paralympic award sweatsuit. Somehow that arm then vanished into the celebrating USA men and women’s team gathered there, and remained “actively hidden” shall I say, in a variation of a game of invisible hot potato, as Kendra pleaded with her volleyball family to give her back her arm. So many big brothers she had there in the team and the team around the team, with sheepish grins of “I dunno where it is Kendra, just go out there with out it, they will give you the medal either way…”

Kendra last year was in a major head on car accident which almost took her life. Like the fighter she is, she preserved, and is back again for her third Paralympics, something all in the Hoosier RVA and all of USAV can be proud and thankful for, as her arm is still a whip and her skill and attitude is a valuable part of this team’s push for a gold.  See this recent story by Becky Murdy - http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Volleyball/Features/2012/May/16/Return-to-the-Floor.aspx

I had dinner last nite in the Paralympic Dining hall, that wonderful place that is open 24/7, with Kendra and two others of the four Paralympians from Athens still on the team. Lora Webster is now a mom of a 19 month old, Allie Aldrich is now a teacher in Nebraska, and met Kendra’s boyfriend, who is on the Great Britain team. They met at those same 2010 Worlds, and this fall Kendra is likely to be in the middle east as her boyfriend is a pilot in training. Of course, I would hope that any pilot of my plane considers his or herself a lifelong learner and always a pilot in training, seeking to stay up with the latest technology, as having a pilot who simply relies on their certificate from 20 years ago would not be good. Hmmmmm…wonder what that means in relating it to coaching….lol.

After the Worlds, John came to the USA Volleyball offices to work with Andy Reitinger on the less fun area of structure and function, the administrative side of junior volleyball that is not as enjoyable  as being on the court, but still so very important. We went out one nite, and after talking about my ideas in youth and sitting volleyball, he had me drive to Walmart at 1 am, so he could buy some 2 inch wide white ribbon, to do both sitting volleyball and kids options with a fast set up, as noted in my recent blog “The Evolution of Volleyball Nets.”  Two weeks later, John was on his way to his new farmhouse in his new sportscar, waiting at a stop sign before crossing into a busy street when a car from behind him failed to stop and pushed him into oncoming traffic which t-boned the driver’s side and took his life.

His loss I still feel deeply, as he gave back to our sport not in the way of the easier and profitable ways of junior girls volleyball, but in the areas that were not so fiscally rewarding and those areas which were less popular, like the sitting team and the administrative work needed. I had talked about getting him here to London in some capacity as with retirement comes time to do things like this which are not about profit, but about doing the right thing. He would have rejoiced at Kendra’s comeback from her serious accident, and helped those less fortunate understand what is possible both with technology, which he taught for decades, but also in people working together to grow the game. So tonite, jet lagged awake at 4 am London time, after the joy and hope seen in being part of the Paralympic Opening Ceremonies, I raise a toast (the benefit of the Paralympic Village dining hall being open 24/7…)  to one of the good guys gone, and ask that all in our sport do a better job of working together to grow the game with USA Volleyball, in his honor and that of so many others who have left our sport too early.  Armuth, this one is for you.

FYI, pics of all matches posted just after competition come up at www.wovd.info if you just sign up for their Facebook page. This morning the famous mayor of London, Boris Johnson, paired up with one of Great Britain’s treasures, the TV and film actress from the East End, Barbara Windsor, to play sitting volleyball after the Great Britain women’s match. The pics of that and tons of great action shots are posted at the WOVD site, as part of our work here in developing the sport.  The other pages worth keeping up on our Paralympic adventures are found at these links…

http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Volleyball/USA-Teams/Sitting-Volleyball/Women/2012-Paralympics/Helpful-Links.aspx

Email me at John.kessel@usav.org if you have questions about our sitting volleyball program or work we are doing around the world to grow the game of sitting volleyball, or comment below and we will get back to you! 

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On May 14, 2011, Hoosier Region Volleyball Association posted an article on John Armuth: 

http://www.hoovb.com/?p=829 



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