Every Tuesday night some of San Diego’s best and most dedicated volleyball players flock to the downtown YMCA, as they have been doing for at least 75 years, to play ball and take a break from their busy lives. The group’s official name is the Bearcat and Wildcat Volleyball Club, but the club is so old that the origin of the name is unknown. The earliest photo recorded of the club goes back to 1937. The story goes that it was started so that San Diego players could practice for the 1937 YMCA National Championships held in Louisville, Ky., which they won.
In its early days, after World War II, the club evolved into a volleyball and social club for the well-to-do men of the city: bankers, judges, real estate developers, politicians, etc. They played at the San Diego Athletic Club until it was torn down, and they found a new gym space at the YMCA. The two teams have always called themselves the Bearcats and the Wildcats, and the guys always went out and drank together after playing. They sometimes even knocked a few back before and during the game, according to 87-year-old Skip Starkey, who may be the oldest club member still living. No one has been able to confirm if the players suspended the league during World War II, but either way this is probably the longest running volleyball league in the country.
Greg Glassman has played in the league for 20 years and is the closest thing to the league historian there is. He calls himself the “Chief Archivist and Holder of the Box” after the previous archivist Bob Mendoza retired and handed Glassman the league’s box of photos and newspaper clippings.
“For me it’s really an honor to play in this league, not only because you need to be invited to play—it’s more than just good volleyball, it’s being part of great group of guys both past and present,” he said.
Big volleyball names, such as former U.S. Men’s National Team Head Coach Jim Coleman and 1968 Olympian Rudy Suwara, have been members of the club in the past. These days, the guys come to the YMCA every Tuesday to play, and then head down to Old Town Mexican Cafe as they’ve been doing since the early eighties.
In recent years, a few of the older players’ sons and their friends have begun to join the league. “It’s great to have the continuity and young blood,” said Glassman. “They’re making it more competitive, so we’ve changed the format a bit.”
For the first time since its creation, the Bearcat Wildcat league now has three teams of guys instead of two, so not everyone plays each week. “Guys get injured a lot or have something else going on, so there’s always an opportunity to sub,” said Glassman.
Other traditions have remained strong, such as having the winners pay only half their league dues and the losers of the month-long session picking up the rest of the tab. An annual Christmas party and golf outing also continue on as club traditions.
“It’s been great to see this thing evolve,” said Glassman. “I hope someday my 16-year-old son Max will see the value in having one night a week out for himself and help keep the Tuesday night tradition going.”
If the league is still around when young Max comes of weekly-volleyball-league age, it will be creeping up on its 100th anniversary, and, if one thing is for sure, that will be a HUGE party.
Originally published in February 2013