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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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G&T guest column: Cooperation is what built powerful area volleyball programs

Buzzie Welch Spokane

An article last month in The Spokesman-Review (“Power Shift Leaves Volleyball Up in the Valley”) caused me to reflect about the history of volleyball in the Spokane area.

Many don’t know that in the 1970s, Bill Neville (former college and USA national team coach) was the YMCA physical education director here in Spokane. He began the first “high-powered” men’s and women’s volleyball program that competed on a national level. Many graduates went on to earn regional recognition and some (Bernie Hite) went on to play in the fledgling pro league. Others, like myself, shared our expertise coaching at the high school level, while some (Kevin Twohig) became administratively involved with USA Volleyball. We were fortunate to have such a good mentor in Bill that put promotion of the sport above everything else.

That legacy continued when the Greater Spokane League adopted girls volleyball. After having little success at the state level, the city school coaches decided that the best way to win a state championship was to work together to make the whole league strong.

Thus the first all-city summer camp was born. The five city schools brought all their athletes to one camp and we shared the load and our knowledge, coaching our own and other coaches’ kids. The theory was that if one school won at state, then all schools won – in a sense.

Competition became fierce, but not hatred. Coaches became friends off the court, but no intensity was lost on the court. That cooperative result led to some 18 state volleyball championships from the GSL.

It was mentioned in the article that 12 out of 13 varsity players on Central Valley’s team participated in club. Well, it was with the cooperation of school coaches and then-Spokane Falls Community College coach, Irene Matlock, and Eastern Washington’s Pam Parks that Spokane Juniors, the first volleyball club in the area was formed in the 1980s. Many school coaches worked in club with other schools’ athletes as they couldn’t train with their own in the offseason. And we can all see what that has blossomed into now.

In addition, Spokane has generated national-class referees and scorers through a comprehensive training program and has more nationally rated officials than any other city in the country, many of whom (Margie Ray, Dale Goodwin, Linda Kildew, Lisa Paull, Barb Silvey, Alan Hiriyama, Rusty Wellman and Barb Twohig) are regularly called on to officiate NCAA women’s matches including the final four. Also, Ben Goodwin became the youngest college certified line judge at age 12.

I think it’s great that “new blood” has come into GSL volleyball in the form of coaches with new ideas and innovations. Growth doesn’t occur in a vacuum and if one doesn’t constantly examine, re-evaluate, and implement change, then one falls behind instead of moving forward.

However, maybe the “newbies” need to be informed of some history that brought the GSL to becoming one of the long-standing toughest leagues in the state that has produced more state champions than any other league. And it was done by an idea that “seems strange to the new-look coaches” – cooperation.

I congratulate the Valley schools on their recent successes because the more difficult the competition, the better everyone becomes. Spokane has a rich volleyball history and collaboration among schools, clubs, and officials. And I hope the league doesn’t lose that “oneness” that helped it so much. Maybe a little social sharing might be one of those ideas or innovations worth re-evaluating.

Buzzie Welch is a longtime high school volleyball coach at several schools, most notably at Lewis and Clark where he won two state titles.
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