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Beach Tourney Will Salute the Legendary Stars of Volleyball

August 11, 1989|DAVE HALL

To the average sports fan, it's not exactly Koufax and Drysdale returning to Chavez Ravine. But on the beach, the names Selznick and Vogelsang and Von Hagen and Menges also conjure visions of heroic summers long ago.

They played volleyball. They were kings of the beach before the tour went pro and the "beach" was extended to Phoenix and Milwaukee and Boulder, Colo. Before light beer and cable television.

This weekend's Legends tournament at the Hermosa Beach pier was designed for the people who remember when success in beach volleyball was measured in adoration and not in six-figure incomes, says event founder Chris Marlowe.

And, he adds, it's for the stars of volleyball past. "The tournament is more or less an honor for the players who built the game," Marlowe said. "They made no money and played in a lot less tournaments, so they never got the recognition of the players today.

"It's a chance to watch the players you've heard about but have never seen."

The idea was born about three years ago, says Marlowe, a former beach star who captained the 1984 Olympic volleyball team to a gold medal and now announces cable broadcasts of professional beach volleyball events.

"Some of us were sitting around talking about the old days, comparing those players to the young guys," he said. "I think it was when Sinjin Smith passed (Ron) Von Hagen (for the all-time lead in tournament victories). There was a lot of talk like that back then."

The Legends idea also sounded good to Dave Heiser, a retired schoolteacher and volleyball enthusiast who organized tournaments in the Santa Monica area during the 1950s and '60s. Fittingly, Heiser puts on the Legends tournaments--this will be the third annual event--just as he did back when the players were in their prime.

"I think the philosophy of the Legends tournament is to see how people hold together as the years go by," said Heiser, 65, whose Santa Monica apartment resembles a beach museum. Its walls are lined with yellowing photographs of tanned young men playing volleyball and surfing--the crew cuts of the 1950s in one shot, flying long hair from the '60s in the next.

"It's phenomenal that the players are still so agile and play so great," Heiser said. "Also, I don't think the players' approach to the game--their shots, their moves--changes that much. They know all the tricks."

The tournament, which will begin round-robin play Saturday morning leading up to the final rounds Sunday, is not your typical old-timers game, Heiser and Marlowe agree.

These players don't go half-speed--with perhaps one exception.

Take the case of Bob (Vogey) Vogelsang, a star of the 1950s and '60s who is known as the father of the jump-serve, a technique now commonly used on both the men's and women's pro tours. Always one of the characters of the circuit, things haven't changed much as he pushes 50.

"Vogelsang would lose a tournament to get a laugh," Heiser said. "Life's just a ball to him."

That's entertainment. A perfect player for an old-timer's game. Right?

Wrong.

"We have 32 Legends and 31 wouldn't play with Vogey," Marlowe said, laughing. "We had to put together a search committee."

Eventually, they persuaded Bill Imwalle to play straight man to the clown prince.

The players don't take the event lightly. According to Marlowe, one player canceled because, despite his training, he was not playing at a level he would display publicly.

The opposite is true of Ron Lang, Heiser said. Word is that Lang--one of the game's most talented players--was unhappy after lugging around his added weight at last year's Legends event. So he went into training. Heiser suspects a new, trimmer Lang will come down from the Lake Tahoe area for this year's tournament.

"He was probably one of the smartest players around," Heiser said. "He was a complete player--he could pass, set, make shots. He was not a power hitter, but he had such great wrist action that he could still snap the ball down.

"And he had hands of gold. Just unbelievable hands."

Lang's partners from two different eras will also be there. Gene Selznick is a volleyball pioneer who played with Lang at the end of his career.

And Von Hagen, 50, perhaps the most dominant player in the history of the game, got his start with Lang. He eventually amassed a record 62 tournament victories during a career when he rarely played more than 10 tournaments each season. Von Hagen has since been passed by both Smith and his partner, Randy Stoklos, on the all-time list, but the younger players have competed in more than 20 events each season.

Also scheduled to play in the tournament are Mike O'Hara, Selznick's archenemy from the '50s and '60s who won the first five Manhattan Beach opens (1960-64); Jim Menges, the sport's top player during the 1970s, and Marlowe.

And Greg Lee and Tom Chamales and Bob Clem and Fred Zuelich and Larry Rundle and Buzz Swartz and Rick Shaw and Gary Hooper.

"We have just about everyone," Marlowe said. "Of course, there are a couple of players who have slipped through the cracks, but the response to this has been excellent."

Marlowe hopes to eventually expand the Legends format to a four- or five-event tour. But, he says, that would require more money than the $600 each player is getting to participate (plus another $150 apiece to the winning team, $100 apiece to the second-place team and the winners of the consolation bracket, and $50 apiece to the consolation runners-up).

There will be a Legends banquet Sunday to honor five players who, because of age or injury, cannot play in the tournament: Manny Saenz, Bernie Holtzman, Mike Bright, Kirk Kilgour and Keith Erikson.

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