The California Beach Volleyball Association held its annual hall of fame Inductions last week at the Hermosa Beach Community Center.
The ceremony is always an evening of meeting friends, renewing old friendships, and recanting stories. This year was no different, as Elaine Youngs, Fred Zuelich, John Featherstone, Dain Blanton, and the team of Tim Hovland and Mike Dodd were inducted.
Jim Arico was the master of ceremonies and Sean Rosenthal and April Ross were the award presenters.
The inductee list possessed impressive volleyball resumes:
— Youngs was a four-time All-American at UCLA, won an NCAA championship in 1991 and was a three-time beach Olympian, winning bronze in the 2004 Athens Games.
— Zuelich earned 40 top-five finishes from 1971-1979, including a 1973 upset over Matt Gage and Ron Von Hagen to win the Manhattan Open.
— John Featherstone was inducted for his contributions to the sport, as a teacher, tournament director and referee.
— Blanton, a two-time beach Olympian, won the gold medal in 2000 with Eric Fonoimoana.
— Hovland and Dodd were inducted as a team, having one of the longest and most productive beach volleyball partnerships, spanning 180 tournaments and 53 victories, including five consecutive Manhattan Open wins.
Youngs participated in both indoor (1992) and beach volleyball (2004, 2008) Olympics. Known for her intensity and athleticism, she won 51 tournaments, earning over $1.7 million in prize money, including three Manhattan and five Hermosa Opens.
Young could not attend, but her partner in Athens in 2004, Holly McPeak, paid tribute.
“You’re one of the best athletes I’ve ever played with, one of the toughest competitors I’ve ever competed against, and I’m proud to call you my ex-partner, and 2004 was one of the highlights of my career,” McPeak said. “Not only were you physically talented, but you were mentally tough. You always were tough in big matches, and I could always rely on you. And that says a lot about being a good partner.”
Zuelich was a tough competitor despite being undersized. His ball control and consistency made him a threat, earning six wins, 40 top-five finishes, and a 1973 Manhattan Open victory over Matt Gage and Ron Von Hagen.
Dodd joked about the Manhattan win.
“I was 16 years old, played with my brother Tim. We played Zuelich and Bob (Jackson) and were ahead 14-11 in the earliest rounds, when Bob chucked the living heck out of the ball, and Tim was livid. The referees, who were their buddies from Santa Barbara, wouldn’t call the set. We ended up losing that match 16-14, but when I began my career in real estate, Fred was representing the Gages on the other side of my first transaction.”
Featherstone ran the first beach clinics in San Diego, was key in securing permits for courts at Mission Beach and was a long-time tournament director there. He also promoted the first world beach doubles championship indoors at the Sports Arena in San Diego, trucking in sand during a time where that practice was unknown. The event attracted more than 6,000 fans. “Feather”, as he was widely known, was also a long time pro beach volleyball official.
Blanton played indoor volleyball at Pepperdine, where he earned a men’s NCAA indoor national championship in 1992 under Marv Dunphy. His real love was the beach, and at 6-foot-3, he was adept at both blocking and defending.
“This is a humbling experience to be here among so many legends and role models that I’ve experienced throughout my career,” Blanton said. “Watching guys like Hovland/Dodd and Smith Stoklos compete like their life depended on it was so inspirational. That was my dream, to be a beach volleyball player.”
In 2000, Blanton and Fonoimoana seeded ninth in the Olympics and had never won an international event. Blanton had been playing domestically with Canyon Ceman, who dumped Blanton for Mike Whitmarsh. Blanton then partnered with Fonoimoana, but the two were both left-side players, so Blanton moved to the right. Blanton/Fonoimoana were unable to win a tournament, earning several second-place finishes, so they broke up.
However, before the 1999 AVP Clearwater event, Whitmarsh retired and Kent Steffes was injured, so Blanton/Fonoimoana reunited for that event. They defeated Karch Kiraly/Adam Johnson to win it and decided to make an Olympic run together. They caught fire at the Olympics, winning gold over Ze Marco de Melo and Ricardo Santos of Brazil.
“The fact that we were able to pull that off, I was so fortunate, to meet up with Eric, who was such a competitor. And I think we learned that throughout that process, and in life, that if you prepare yourself, and compete your ass off, you can end up with a gold medal.”
Hovland and Dodd had both been previously inducted individually in 2000. Hovland was a 1980 NCAA champion and All-American at USC, while Dodd was a basketball and volleyball standout at San Diego State and drafted by the NBA’s Clippers.
“When we won, everyone knew,” Dodd said. “It was going to be the best party. We were all going to go out after, and have a blast. That hasn’t changed.”
Dodd was the introspective, quiet force, Hovland the fiery, explosive presence. Their rivalry with Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos brought the sport to new heights.
“They promoted our sport like you wouldn’t believe,” MC Jim Arico said. “They barnstormed from coast to coast, they showed up on Wednesday, they did radio shows in Atlanta, and Cleveland, and run promotions endlessly. Those guys made this work, these guys were responsible for our lifestyle and bringing our sport to the rest of the country.”
“I won a million dollars, three thousand dollars at a time,” Hovland said at a previous HOF induction ceremony.
Last week he recalled that “Marine Street was unbelievable. Those days you had to be able to play nine hours a day seven days a week. If you got beat 7-0 you had to take your pants off and run down to the ocean. Word got around: Don’t come down to Marine unless you’re really, really serious.”
“We’re still great friends, almost 25 years later,” Dodd said. “The unique thing about Tim, he could abuse fans: ‘You’re horrible, you have nothing,’ he would say … and they loved him. We’d go back to the bar the next day and the fans would apologize.”
George Stepanof was the recipient of the first Ron Von Hagen award. Stepanof, who retired this year after over 60 years as a CBVA tournament director in San Diego, created the rating system as well as the first rule book.
Also honored as top players were Jorge Martinez and Dalida Vernier (AAA), Griffin Conway and Jenn Henderson (AA), Seth Tuton and Morgan Kendrick, and Kaili Kimura (B).
And the 2016 Youth Cal Cup Champions: Chanti Holroyd, Madilyn Yeomans, Will Bantle, Rob Mullahey (18U), Kyla Doig, Jaden Whitmarsh, Jevan Coronado, Luke Grafton (16U), Makenna Gaeta, Kate Reilly, Miles Partain, Luke Turner (14U), and Kelly Belardi, Savannah Standage, Mick Bakos, Ryan Sprague (12U).