Beach Volleyball Hall of Fame finds home in Hermosa [PHOTOS]
“Beach volleyball deserves this,” Ron Von Hagen said to the beach volleyball players and fans who filled the Hermosa Community Theater Friday night.
From just about anyone else that observation might have been dismissed as an empty platitude. But from a person of such mythic stature and so few words as Von Hagen, the words carried the weight of a priestly blessing.
The crowd had assembled to celebrate the establishment of a hall of fame home at the Hermosa Beach Historical Museum. The Beach Volleyball Hall of Fame was established in 1992, but did not previously have permanent home.
Von Hagen, along with his former playing partners Gene Selznick and Ron Lang, and Miki McFadden were the evening’s honorees. Chris Brown, president of the California Association of Beach Volleyball, described the four as the sport’s Mount Rushmore.
Jim Menges, a 1994 hall of fame inductee with five Manhattan Open victories and a career total of 48, introduced Von Hagen as “beach volleyball’s Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig rolled into one.”
Before personal trainers and supplements, Von Hagen’s physique surpassed even that of 2000 Olympic gold medalist Eric “The Body” Fonoimoana’s” Menges noted.
“He drank a special tea and played eight or nine games at Sorrento Beach every day, because in those days you held the court until you lost and he never lost. And then, while the rest of us were in the ivy drinking beer and watching the sunset, he’d go down to the water’s edge and do squat jumps,” Menges said.
Between 1964 and 1978, when he retired at the age of 38, Von Hagen won 62 of the 120 open beach volleyball tournaments he competed in. His prize earnings totaled $625.
“He played out of passion and love for the game, not money or fame,” Menges said.
Von Hagen retired unacclaimed except in the tight beach volleyball community, though he continued to play until a few years ago when, he said, “I ran out of guys to play with.” But he still does his squat jumps every day. Friday night, at 73, he looked as fit and focused as in his youth. Last winter he skied all but five day near his Sun Valley home.
Von Hagen used his brief comments to credit his four main partners — Bernie Holtzman, Gene Selznick, Ron Lang and Mike O’Hara — for “teaching me how to play the game.”
Emcee Jim Arico said at the start of the evening that beach volleyball is a game of unfathomable team chemistry.
Lang’s introduction of Selznick illustrated the point. Selznick began playing beach volleyball in Hermosa in 1948, but quickly moved to the more competitive courts at Sorrento Beach, where he met Von Hagen
In contrast to Von Hagen’s aestheticism, Selznick was a legendary libertine who played best when he partied hardest. He introduced the even more legendary libertine Wilt Chamberlain to beach volleyball. His party partners at actor Peter Lawford’s Sorrento Beach home included John Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.
Lang noted that Selznick was the first American to be named to the All World indoor volleyball team and that he brought back from Europe the 6-0 system that remains the dominant indoor American system today. Selznick alternately smiled and grimaced in response to his former partner’s recollections. Because of illness, Selznick attended the event in a wheel chair and did not address the crowd.
Lang was introduced by another Hall of Fame inductee and five time Manhattan Open winner Chris Marlowe, now the Denver Nuggets TV announcer.
Lang was the setter on the first U.S. Indoor Volleyball Olympic team in 1964 and is the only player to have been inducted in both the beach and indoor volleyball halls of fame.
Lang shared Von Hagen’s physical and mental discipline, Marlowe said. But unlike the taciturn Von Hagen, Lang’s complimented his skills with vicious verbal attacks against his opponents.
“In 1957, he managed to convince Von Hagen to dump Holtzman by telling him, ‘You’ll be five points better with me. Lang was never tortured by self-doubt,” Marlowe said.
“At their first practice, he told Von Hagen, ‘When I dig a ball, I’ll yell, ‘Go, go, go.’ I’m not criticizing you. It will make you faster. And when I dig, you tell me, ‘Go, go, go.’”
“There are a lot of great players here tonight, but Lang is the most competitive SOB who ever walked the sand,” Marlowe said.
“His motto was never let the other side score. He believed if he beat a team 15-1, then the next time they met, they’d remember that.”
Menges recalled being chided by Lang for playing on the B court at Sorrento.
“He said I’d never get any better if I didn’t play on the A court. So one day Tommy Chamales and I got up our courage and went over to the A court.
“Right away, we were down 8-0. Then Lang started spinning the ball on his index finger and yelling, ‘Next, next.’ In those days, if you were down 8-0 you had to slink off the court.”
“I remember thinking, ‘He brings us over, then he boots us out. This is BS.”
Menges recalled an even more deflating match against Lang in an open tournament “Chamales and I were up 12-8 against Lang and Butch May, and I was thinking, ‘We’re going to win this game. It was getting dark and May served a sky ball that went 40 feet up in the air and way out of bounds. It would have landed on a lady holding her baby if I hadn’t caught it.
“Then I heard Lang yell, ‘Point. Ball has to hit the sand.’”
“I was so mad we didn’t score another point.”
Lang won over 50 beach opens between 1957 and 1970, including 28 with Von Hagen and 20 with Selznick.
In 1966, playing with Von Hagen and Selznick, Lang became the only beach volleyball player ever to have an undefeated season.
Miki McFadden, like the evening’s other honorees, also partnered with a polar opposite. Kathy McGregory, with whom McFadden won 14 of her 15 open victories, was described by volleyball historian Art Couvillion as possessed of “a brazen enthusiasm that has never been equaled in the game of beach volleyball by any other player, man or woman.”
Sharkey Zartman, an El Camino professor and Volleyball Hall of Fame Inductee (’93), described McFadden as the prototype for today’s volleyball player.
“She was tall, lean and powerful – the best hitter of her day,” Zartman said.
And like the other honorees, a merciless competitor.
“Off the court she was so sweet. She showed us it was possible to be a top player, a mom and a coach. But on the court, she’d exploit every weakness. If you weren’t passing well, she’d send you ever ball.”
“With Kathy Gregory and Nina Matthies as partners, I had to play hard,” McFadden said.
In addition to crediting her partners for her success, she credited Selznick’s coaching with transforming her from a not very good player to one where her kids would ask half way through a match, “Mom, have you won yet so we can go home.”
In addition to the four honorees, four new Volleyball Hall of Fame Inductees were honored Friday night — Holly McPeak, John Hanley, Brian Lewis and Arthur “Artie” Couvillion.
McPeak starred at Mira Costa High School and was named National Freshman of the Year at UC Berkeley before transferring to UCLA, where she led the Bruins to a national championship in 1990.
She won 72 beach volleyball titles and was the first female player to earn more than $1 million in the sport. At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, she and partner Elaine Youngs won the bronze medal.
Couvillion, a long-time Hermosa Beachresident, was honored for his three-volume series “Sands of Time: The History of Beach Volleyball.”
Lewis became the 11th man to reach the $1 million mark in career winnings in 2004 and won eight domestic beach championships.
Hanley won 16 tournament titles in his 17 year career, which began in 1979, most with partner Jon Stevenson (‘96). In 1993, Hanley earned the AVP Ron Von Hagen Award as the Most Underrated Player.
The presentations were preceded by videos produced by Marci Klein of Video Memories and Chris Miller. Temporary exhibits on display in the Hermosa Historical Museumon Friday night included photos dating back to the 1930s, tournament posters, trophies and displays representing Manhattan’s Six-Man, Olympic Beach Volleyball and the CBVA’s 50-year history.
Proceeds from the event will be used to build permanent Beach Volleyball exhibits in the museum.
Additional reporting by Randy Angel.