USA Volleyball Trailblazer Becky Howard Passes Away

By Bill Kauffman ( | Nov. 30, 2018, 2:20 p.m. (ET)

Becky Howard
Becky Howard (Oct. 13, 1939 - Nov. 29, 2018

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Nov. 30, 2018) – USA Volleyball is sad to report the passing of Rebecca “Becky” Howard, a trailblazer in the sport of volleyball who advocated for diversity and inclusion. She passed away on Thursday at the age of 79.

Howard served as USA Volleyball’s president (1996-2000) and executive director/CEO (2002-2005), the first woman to hold either of those positions within the national governing body. A year after stepping down from her CEO role, Howard was named the 37th recipient of the Harold T. Friermood “Frier” Award, the highest honor bestowed by USA Volleyball. The honor recognizes the lifetime achievements of the sports’ leaders in the United States.

“USA Volleyball expresses its deepest condolences to Becky's family,” said Jamie Davis, USA Volleyball CEO. “Becky’s imprint on the sport both domestically with USA Volleyball and internationally with the FIVB and NORCECA was immense and we will strive to continue the growth of volleyball in her honor.”

During her nearly 60 years of association with our sport, Howard made an impact wherever she directed her energies. In a sporting world dominated by men, she paved the way for other women to participate, succeed and excel. She was a leader in grassroots, local, regional, national and international volleyball.

“BECKY HOWARD was special!!!!!” said Doug Beal, head coach of the 1984 U.S. Men's Olympic gold-medal team who followed Howard in the role as CEO until his retirement in 2016. “She was unique, she was a leader. She made USAV, and so many of us, much better for being there and following her lead. We were very lucky to have her, and sadly not for long enough. I can’t imagine anyone who knew Becky not recalling bunches of stories or events that showcased her humor, her directness, her strong opinions, and her love for the sport and USA Volleyball. Becky’s footprint was just all over the sport. She didn’t crack glass ceilings – she exploded them.”

Since her early involvement with volleyball, Howard was a trailblazer. Before becoming president of the USA Volleyball Board of Directors, she was the second woman to serve as a USA Volleyball regional commissioner. Her pioneering ways went beyond the United States’ borders as she made major inroads with the sport internationally. She was one of the first two women to serve on the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) Board of Administration. Her area of influence expanded with her appointment to the zonal NORCECA Confederation’s executive committee representing North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Not coincidentally, she was the only female member of this group.

“Becky Howard was a credit to the sport of volleyball, one that she loved with passion and devotion,” said NORCECA President Cristobal Marte Hoffiz of the Dominican Republic. “In our many years working together in both NORCECA and FIVB, I was able to confirm her consistent and invaluable qualities as executive manager and as a person.”

Perhaps Howard’s single-most important legacy is that volleyball, both nationally and internationally, is now a more diverse and inclusive community. She set new standards and opportunities for women to assume significant and high-level leadership roles with both USA Volleyball and the FIVB.

Related: Becky Howard's USA Volleyball Retirement Photo Book (Please note - large PDF download (20 MB) 

In addition to the Frier Award, Howard has received numerous other USA Volleyball awards and recognition. In 2000, she was presented with the Harry E. Wilson Distinguished Service Award and was the recipient of the William G. Morgan Founders Award for her service as USAV president. In 1987, Howard was presented both the George J. Fisher Leader in Volleyball Award and the Dr. Neville E. ”Doc” Booth Commissioner’s Award. The Diversity Star Award, established in 2001, is named in her honor.

A Celebration of Life will be held on Jan. 19, 2019, at a location to be determined in northern Colorado Springs. The event will begin at 3 p.m. MT. For more information and to RSVP, click here.

USA Volleyball Administration and Growing the Sport

Howard served on the USA Volleyball Board of Directors for 26 consecutive years starting in 1980, whether as a director or an officer. In January, prior to the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, she was accorded the highest office her peers could bestow as she was elected President-elect of USA Volleyball. The blueprint for her successful tenure had been forged with the implementation of the “Vision 2000” plan adopted in December 1995.

The ‘vision’ included several far-reaching goals. One such goal was more inner-city involvement with the sport of volleyball; inner-city and inter-city championship programs were the direct result. Her vision was partially realized with the development of the ‘Starlings” program in Southern California and eventually a national-level program that offered opportunities for girls to play club volleyball regardless of socioeconomic background or level of play. A tangent of this was the ‘volleyvan’ program. The ‘volleyvan’ visited many cities and states, introducing volleyball to thousands of young people throughout the United States.

The ‘Vision’ also aimed at the “FUN” side of the game. To this end, Howard developed a statement, which is now published in USA Volleyball’s annual rulebook, reminding that above all, volleyball should be fun.

    “The United States Volleyball Association believes that volleyball has so many positive things to offer those who participate. First and most importantly, whether one is a gifted athlete or a recreational player, volleyball is FUN. It is a lifetime sport enjoyed by players from 8-80. Participation in volleyball is not only good exercise, but also involves team cooperation and spirit. We are committed to introducing our sport to all of America.”

Howard was determined that USA Volleyball should be involved with the development of the beach game and that the sport be accessible to the disabled player. In 1999, her recommendation to the USAV Board of Directors instituted the International Beach Commission and two new divisions, the Beach Volleyball and Disabled divisions. In 1999, the USA Beach Volleyball Championships, under the joint auspices of the Beach and National Championships divisions, were expanded to include all levels of play, specifically including juniors, masters and open divisions. In 2000, USA Volleyball hosted an International Sitting Volleyball Championship tournament in Columbus, Ohio, in conjunction with the USA Volleyball Open National Championships.

Two years after leaving USAV’s board presidency post, Howard was appointed as interim CEO of USA Volleyball in 2002 during a tumultuous time. By the time she handed the reins of CEO to Doug Beal in early 2005, USA Volleyball was again financially healthy.

Howard’s impact on the sport of volleyball is unparalleled and she will be sorely missed.