A Pioneer of Women's Volleyball'

May/June 2002

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A Pioneer of Women's Volleyball'

Courtesy Dave Epperson

Dave Epperson never planned to have a second career in youth sports.

It all started so innocently. In 1981, Epperson’s two young daughters played for a volleyball club headed from its home of Davis, Calif., to the Junior Olympics in Omaha, Neb. Funds were tight, so Epperson and his wife, Bernice, helped raise money for travel expenses. National organizers of the Junior Olympics noticed their efforts and invited the Eppersons to help administer the 1982 and 1983 tournaments.

A short time later, event organizers asked Epperson to host a junior volleyball tournament in California. The event debuted in San Jose in 1984 and the girls’ portion moved to Sacramento the following year. “We’ve been there ever since,” says Epperson with a laugh.

Have they ever. What began as a modest tournament featuring 120 teams has evolved into one of the largest annual sporting events in the world. This June, more than 9,500 girls between the ages of 12 and 18 will arrive in Sacramento from 30 states and four nations to show off their digs and kills at the competition, known simply as the Volleyball Festival.

In addition to the 7,000-plus matches that will take place during the seven-day event, the Volleyball Festival offers workshops for parents, training sessions for sports-medicine personnel, and clinics for coaches and referees. According to Epperson, many current Pac-10 volleyball officials—including Charlie Brown, the conference’s officiating coordinator—cut their teeth at the festival.

Epperson, a psychologist and former professor at Northwestern University, the University of Illinois and UC-Santa Barbara, believes the secret to the event’s success has been its competitive but uncontentious environment. Teams of all skill levels are welcome to participate, and each team is guaranteed to play 13 matches in five days—win or lose.

The festival “has been perfect in terms of enabling the continued growth of women’s volleyball,” says John Dunning, head coach of the Stanford women’s volleyball team. “Most of the people that Stanford has been able to recruit over the years have come from good club teams. There are two key events—this one, and the Junior Olympics.”

Based partly on his experiences with the Volleyball Festival, Epperson wrote A Woman’s Touch: What Today’s Women Can Teach Us About Sport and Life (Diamond Communications, 1999). In it, he enumerates lessons that male athletes can learn from female athletes (“truly enjoy the intimate relationships you can establish through sport”; “take fewer risks with your body”) and vice versa (“accurately interpret feedback”; “learn to play with people you do not necessarily like”). He has also collaborated with former Stanford basketball teammate George Selleck, ’56, MA ’57, on two books for parents of athletes.

“Dave has been one of the pioneers of women’s volleyball—not only the sport itself, but its sportsmanship and education,” Dunning says.

Because of its impact on the sport, the Volleyball Festival was inducted into the International Volleyball Hall of Fame in October 1999. But to Epperson, the tournament has greater significance: “It’s a celebration of the concept of women’s athletics.”

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