May 16 – It was just your ordinary day in Hawaii in 1976, but the memory of a passing conversation remains etched in my noggin.
I was a graduate assistant under Eddie Inouye at the University of Hawaii’s sports information department, working in portable wooden structures on lower campus. I think we may have had air conditioning sometimes.
UH female athletic director Dr. Donnis Thompson — she admonished a colleague who called her Donnis, saying “It’s Dr. Thompson” — came to see Eddie. She told us she wanted to play the season-opening women’s volleyball game not at the steamy Klum Gym but at the Blaisdell Arena.
I admit I was skeptical.
Almost half a century later, I remember that conversation and Dr. Thompson’s vision.
This match, played following a high school match between Punahou and Kamehameha, drew a crowd of 7,000 spectators.
Thompson put Hawaii volleyball on the big stage. She raised him to the fore.
Watch us now – UH, the owners of four consecutive women’s national titles and men’s championships, an informed and loyal fan base of the sport, the national attendance leader, and thriving competitive clubs and recreational games throughout the state.
With that kind of community passion and longevity, why not make volleyball an official state sport of Hawaii?
Put it right next to canoeing and surfing.
I realize that the game was not invented here. That distinction belongs to New York-born William G. Morgan, a friend of basketball inventor James Naismith who wanted a sport with less “jostling” and physical contact. In 1895, while serving as a physical education director with a YMCA in Holyoke, Mass., Morgan invented volleyball.
This is where the International Volleyball Hall of Fame is located.
And that’s why it’s the official sport, along with basketball, of Massachusetts. It was voted in 2014 and is officially called the “Recreational and Team Sport of the Commonwealth”.
But there is no kapu sign on a sport when it comes to designating it as a state sport. California just adopted one of our state sports, surfing, in 2014.
Hawaii should add it as its overall sport which includes sand, hard court, grass court, indoor, outdoor, competitive, recreational and fan following. Maybe even create your own Hall of Fame site to honor your former athletes, coaches, administrators, or super fans like “The Aunties.”
After all, Hawaii’s connection to the sport goes back ages.
According to former Star-Advertiser writer Cindy Luis, who is now a blogger and freelance writer, beach volleyball began in Hawaii in 1915 “documented by Outrigger Canoe Club and recognized by everyone that Dad Center spread a net between two coconut palms and the ‘Boys’ played during lulls in surfing.”
Luis, who has covered Hawaii volleyball since 1981 — she covered it when she was a senior at UCLA before that — said in an email:
“There are other pockets of fandom in the country, but Hawaii is legendary. There were a few coaches who came here during the COVID restrictions and were so disappointed for their players, it’s a once in a lifetime experience. They tried to tell their players how great Hawaii fans were, but when fans were allowed or restricted, it became irrelevant.
“What sets Hawaii apart is the love of the game itself. There are fans in other places, women in Nebraska, men in Long Beach State, but the difference is that fans in Hawaii encourages good volleyball, even if it’s the other team. It’s rare when Hawaii fans will boo an opposing player or coach. The most recent was Beach’s Alex Nikolov at the Big West tournament. Nikolov pointed a finger through the net at UH (Dimitrios) Mouchlias after being blocked. Mouchlias had his back to the net and celebrated with his teammates. UH fans would not pass up the lack of sportsmanship. They booed him every turn of duty and it went to his head.
“At other schools, when students show up, it’s about supporting their school. In Hawaii, with its older fan base, it’s about cheering on the sport.
“I think volleyball is ingrained in the culture. It’s part of picnics, potlucks and fits the beach lifestyle.”
Hawaii’s connection to the sport on the international stage also dates back decades, when the sport was first officially played at the 1964 Olympics.
Hawaii was then well represented, Pete Velasco being captain and Jake Highland a member of the team. Sharon Peterson, who would become a legendary Hawaii Hilo volleyball coach and is in the UH Hilo Hall of Fame, was on the women’s team, along with Gail O’Rourke Wong and Verneda Thomas.
At the 1968 Games in Mexico City, Tom “Daddy” Haine was the team captain and Butch May was on the roster. Fannie Hopeau was on the list of women.
In fact, Hawaii has been represented at every Olympics since then except for the 1976 Games and the 1980 Games which the United States boycotted. In the just-concluded 2020 Olympics (held in 2021 due to the pandemic), three members of the U.S. men’s team were from Hawaii: Micah Christenson, Erik Shoji, and Kawika Shoji.
Beach volleyball was introduced to the Summer Olympics in 1992 – the same year former Wahine Teee Williams won a bronze medal in the hard court game. Since then there has been more representation in Hawaii, including Kevin Wong at the 2000 Sydney Games.
So it’s time for Hawaii to officially acknowledge this whole story.
But my enthusiasm may have been met with some skepticism (oh, like me about Dr Thompson’s decision) from the political arena, after all, the Legislative Assembly is the decision maker on the matter.
“I think given beach volleyball’s historical connection to Hawaii, it warrants a discussion given what’s happening today,” Sen. Glenn Wakai said when asked for my suggestion. “I’m still hesitant to cram in new sport after new sport because it all discounts the value of canoeing and surfing as two other official sports of Hawaii.”
But since I’m over a decade older, he should listen to his elders.
So it’s time to pay tribute to everyone involved, from all the great coaches like Dave Shoji to Charlie Wade, to all the great players and fans of this great volleyball state.
It’s time to make an official statement and vote.