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March 19: Eugene Selznick, Volleyball Champ

March 18, 2016

14_1Eugene Selznick, who was captain of the United States men’s national volleyball team from 1953 to 1967, was born in Los Angeles on this date in 1930. He also coached women’s volleyball teams that won national titles and helped popularize the game of beach volleyball, which “is to Los Angeles what stickball once was to Brooklyn,” Paul Vitello wrote in the New York Times. “Selznick’s devotion to it made him... known there as the First King of Beach Volleyball.” Selznick also “almost singlehandedly” reinvented indoor volleyball: “he lobbied unrelentingly in the early ’60s until the United States Volleyball Association agreed to run American tournaments according to the same rules used in international competitions,” which “transformed the game (played with six members on a team) into a faster, more power-driven sport and helped American players begin winning consistently against foreign teams.” When basketball great Wilt Chamberlain retired from the NBA in 1973, Selznick recruited him to tour on a nationwide volleyball exhibition team, which “brought a new generation to volleyball and laid the groundwork for a boom in popularity that began in the ’80s.” Beach volleyball became an Olympic sport in 1996. Selznick died at 82 in 2012.

“Selznick was not overwhelmingly athletic. But he was known for uncanny reflexes, an ability to anticipate where the ball was going and a level of concentration that made his game nearly error-free.” —Paul Vitello, New York Times