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Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

Volleyball's popularity has grown drastically

By Robb Hemmelgarn
Robb Hemmelgarn spoke to a group of former local volleyball head coaches to get their insight into how volleyball has evolved through the years. Today's story is the first of a four-part series.
Reclined comfortably on his living room sofa, former New Knoxville volleyball coach Chuck Braden is amongst friends as he offers thoughts and stories about the sport to which he has dedicated the majority of his life.
A couple of spots to his right sits former Parkway volleyball coach Todd Henkle, while across from them in well-manicured rocking chairs are their former colleagues DeDe Stoner and Mary Lou Bambauer. If there were such a thing as a Mount Rushmore-type of sculpture for local volleyball coaches, this foursome would undoubtedly have their profiles chiseled onto the side of it.
For the next few days, these four coaches, along with former Marion Local Flyers' head coach and current assistant coach Mary Lou Bruns, will offer their insight on a variety of volleyball topics as the season draws to a close this weekend at the state tournament at Wright State University's Nutter Center.
When Braden, Bambauer and Stoner's coaching careers were in the early stages in the 1970s, volleyball seemed more like a structured gym class than the product it resembles today. Floor-shaking kills didn't exist, laser-guided jump serves were years away and 6-foot girls who could leap out of the gym were unheard of.
"I remember during New Knoxville's first year in 1975, St. Henry came over to play," commented Braden, who took the coaching reigns in 1976. "The net stretched from bleacher to bleacher across the gym and there were no poles, so it swayed back and forth and up and down. Steve Trout and I were asked to officiate the match and it was the first power volleyball game I had been to in my life. The game stopped after about five points so that the St. Henry girls could show the New Knoxville players how to properly line up, return serves and at least do something when the ball came over. They sent Steve and I home because it went from being a game to a practice run by St. Henry's players."
Despite piles of success that spanned decades at St. Henry through her career, things didn't begin on such a seasoned note for Stoner either, who amassed nearly 450 victories in her 20-year tenure.
"We didn't know what we didn't know when Mary Lou, Chuck, and I started coaching," she admitted. "I'm not sure some of those early teams that I had were that much better necessarily or knew that much more about volleyball but I made sure they played hard and were in outstanding condition. Honestly, we probably weren't very good coaches in the beginning because we were learning the sport just as the girls were."
Bambauer, who coached at Celina from 1978 through 1993, agreed.
"No doubt about that - I can remember lining the girls up and standing in front of them with the ball above my head with both hands. I threw it down as hard as I could and that was how we practiced receiving a spike. You would definitely get a few strange looks if you did that today."
As the pioneers of their sport, there were few options for the coaches as far as who to model their styles and approach after, so Braden made a telephone call over to Minster in hopes of gaining some inspiration.
"When I was first talked into coaching, I didn't hesitate to call Katie Horstman," he commented. "She practiced with her volleyball team in the mornings, so I went over there to observe her. I took as many notes as I could and implemented them into our practices in the afternoon. She was definitely an early role model in all sports for us coaches and was a lady who was an outstanding advocate for girls' sports."
Before the onset of Title IX, which laid the ground work for women's athletics, most local sports fans focused their attention on football and boys basketball.
"I remember the first few times using the gym that was otherwise solely for the boys and that definitely didn't go over very well at the start," Stoner chuckled. "I wasn't much for confrontation but I stood my ground that it was volleyball season and that it was our floor. Many years later, basketball coach Fran Guilbault wrote me a very nice letter commending me for standing up for the girls and he respected the stance that I took. From there, though, things worked out very well and everyone seemed to adjust over time."
When Bambauer landed in Celina, there had already been an established expectation in volleyball as they captured Western Buckeye League titles in 1976 and 1977. It was her responsibility to keep the streak rolling and it didn't take her long to figure out that second place in the league was frowned upon.
"Celina won the WBL several years in a row and they were very serious about the sport, but then Delphos St. John's beat us in league play during my first year," said Bambauer. "I wanted to have fun and of course I wanted to win, but I felt they would continue to win in spite of me because they had always won. I found out in a hurry though that there was a little more to it, so I tried to take in and learn as much as I could from that point on."
The approach deemed well for Bambauer as she guided the Bulldogs to 11 league titles in her 16 seasons in command.
All of the coaches were on hand as the sport evolved through the years and they agree that this area has always been special as far as athletics are concerned.
"We are so fortunate with how everyone embraces sports and volleyball was no different," said Henkle, who captured a pair of state championships at Parkway in 1996 and 1997. "The coverage we receive from local newspapers and radio stations is outstanding. How many teams had even one radio station cover their team? And we normally had two - it was amazing."
Braden concurred.
"We played a regional game in Vandalia one season and they stopped letting people in. There were so many fans that that they ran out of money to make change at the door and didn't have near enough in concessions. They were shocked how these small towns had such a following. I think they are a little better prepared for it now."
Tomorrow the coaches will discuss dealing with their players and other changes the sport has endured over the years, including the explosion of club volleyball during the offseason.
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