Every year the U.S. Volleyball Association national championships attract the same gifted athletes from clubs and YMCAs around the country but, like bright bits of glass in a kaleidoscope, the players seldom show up in the same combinations. It is not unusual for a man to represent three different teams in three years. At the 1966 championships, held last week just outside Grand Rapids, it was as if the kaleidoscope had broken and all the glass had fallen into one glittering lump—the Sand & Sea Club of Santa Monica, Calif.
So powerful was Sand & Sea that, after winning the AAU title two weeks ago, it divided into three entries for the more important USVBA event. The players 35 years and older, led by Gene Selznick, won the senior division without losing a game. Sand & Sea Green, coached by Gene Selznick, won the Open Division, also without the loss of a game. And Sand & Sea White, featuring Gene Selznick, finished sixth in the Open, which included 39 entries. In addition, Gene coached the winning women's team and introduced a new magazine called Volleyball Close Up, turning the tournament into the biggest Selznick production since David O. filmed Gone With the Wind.
Selznick is a 36-year-old Los Angeles parking lot operator who had played for many teams—Hollywood YMCA, Pasadena YMCA, Long Beach Century Club and Westside Jewish Community Center—but not the 1964 Olympic team. a snub he feels was partially avenged last year when he helped take Westside to the USVBA title. Now he is volleyball majordomo at Sand & Sea. The club attracted its mass of talent late last year after a group of U.S. stars, including Selznick, toured Canada playing matches against the Russians, the finest volleyball players in the world. The U.S. team did not win a single match, but it did win two games (a match is best of three) and the U.S. players were so pleased with their progress that they decided to stick together under Selznick.
At Grand Rapids, most of the best players were on the Green team, and they were admired and feared before they ever played a match in the Calvin College field house, site of the double-elimination tournament. Spectators and members of other teams gathered just to watch them warm up, blanching when Mike Bright, former international paddleboard champ from Hermosa Beach, leaped high above the top of the net and spiked the ball straight down in the opposing court, nearly making a dent in the floor. And there was Rudy Suwara, nicknamed "Tas" or "The Tasmanian Devil" because he screamed and snarled at the Russians in Canada and drew an official tut-tut. "The Russians wouldn't talk to me," he said. "They pointed at me and said, 'Bad shport.' " And there were Dennis Duggan, whose slams land with the heaviness of bowling balls; Jack Henn, perhaps the finest all-round player in the nation; and Bob Hogan and Ron Lang, two setters with delicate hands that a surgeon would envy.
One of the few stars not with Sand & Sea was Pete Velasco, a friendly Honolulu longshoreman who was captain of the Olympic team at Tokyo and is the mainstay of the Outrigger Canoe Club. Quick and ambidextrous, he was voted the outstanding player in last year's tourney. This year his team was given the best chance to knock off Selznick's Green team. If the Outriggers could not outhit, outblock or out-dig Sand & Sea, they might be able to blind them with their blue-flowered shorts. When the two teams met Saturday afternoon, Outrigger raced off to a 9-1 lead. But Sand & Sea, used to the constant tough competition that Outrigger cannot find in distant Hawaii, settled down and fought back to 9 all. Outrigger pulled away again to 14-9 but then, a point away from defeat, Sand & Sea started blocking superbly. Outrigger's hitters saw their own spikes come right back at them so often they must have thought they were playing handball. Sand & Sea won 16-14 and easily look the second game 15-5.
This put the Outriggers in the loser's bracket where they had to fight for another crack at Sand & Sea on Saturday night. The Hawaiians succeeded, winning three games to defeat Westside. Perhaps to change their luck, they showed up for the finale in red-flowered shorts instead of blue, but it did no good. Sand & Sea won 13-10 (when time ran out) and 15-13, and that was it.
The Outriggers had one consolation. Sand & Sea's great digger and setter, Bob Hogan, plans to return to the Islands next season and play on Waikiki Beach, as he did last year. And so the kaleidoscope turns. Even Gene Selznick can't prevent that.