Ric Lucas’s Aunt Edie drove from Baltimore to see the game. Chris Hindson, BS Marketing ’98, traveled from Florida with his wife and four-month-old daughter to play in the game. More than 50 volleyball team alumni, including 13 of the 19 players from the 1984 team, traveled from around the country to play, watch, and celebrate during the university’s Alumni Weekend in October.
The Mason men’s volleyball alumni have been getting together for a number of years, according to James Claney, BS Communication ’04, but this year’s reunion was special. It marked the 25th anniversary of the team’s first Final Four appearance and their third place finish in the NCAA tournament. Claney, who played on the team from 1999 to 2003, coordinates alumni activities for the group and says this was the largest attendance at a reunion yet.
Something to Celebrate
Typical reunion weekends involve a game between the alumni and current players, the opportunity to watch the current team play, and a dinner at Brion’s Grille. This year the alumni did not have the chance to play the current team because games were scheduled for both Friday and Saturday nights. Still, the Mason’s men’s volleyball team showed up with Coach Fred Chao, BS Psychology ’94, to meet the alumni and watch them play each other. The alumni then returned to the Field House later that evening to watch the current players compete against Ball State University.
The reunion was made all the more special by the fact that sophomore Eric Lucas, son of 1984 team cocaptain and All American Ric Lucas, BS Electrical Engineering ’84, MS Electrical Engineering ’89, is on Mason’s current team. The players also had the opportunity to chat with 1984 Head Coach Wayne Stalick. Stalick, who coached men’s volleyball at Mason until 1990, was in town for the event, sporting his still-pristine gold volleyball jacket from the 1980s.
The Man Who Would Be Coach
When Stalick came to Mason in 1972, it was as a chemistry professor. He had no way of knowing he would become coach of the university’s men’s volleyball team. Stalick, now a professor emeritus of chemistry at Mason, retired from the university in 2004 and is chair of the chemistry department at the University of Central Missouri near Kansas City. Back in 1973, Stalick was approached to be the faculty advisor to the volleyball club and did so happily. Then in 1974, with a desire to have the men’s basketball team eligible for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) championships, the university needed to have five men’s sports teams, so Stalick was asked to put together and coach a men’s volleyball team.
“They offered us the men’s JV basketball uniforms, the women’s volleyball equipment, three volleyballs, and a $150 budget plus travel expenses” says Stalick. With that, he set out to pull together a team for the university. “We hung flyers in the Student Union. It was very much by the seat of our pants,” he says.
For years Stalick and his wife drove the team around. He says they would squeeze 15 people, mostly men, into a van if need be. Most of the time they had a van and a car. “It was a lot of fun. I think traveling in a small van brought the team closer together and helped us gel as a group,” he says. “By the time we made it to the NCAA nationals for the first time, we had a bigger budget and sometimes would take a bus on our longer trips to the Midwest.”
Stalick knew to get Mason on the map he was going to have to get the team to the Midwest and the West Coast where the majority of known volleyball programs existed. Competing then as part of the NAIA, Stalick managed to get the team first to Kansas City then to the West Coast.
In 1983 they won the Middle Atlantic division of the U.S. Volleyball Association (USVBA) and went to the championships in Hawaii, where they played against actor Tom Selleck and his Outrigger Canoe Club team.
The team went to the USVBA nationals two more times after that. The Patriots did well and people noticed. Many players see the USVBA championship appearances as the turning point for the team.
Despite the recognition on the national level, the team still remained a family affair in many ways. Mitch Widmer, BS Law Enforcement ’86, even recalls players taking turns entertaining the Stalicks’s baby son John during the cross-country flight to the second NCAA Final Four tournament in 1985. That baby, now a grown man, accompanied his father to the reunion where he chatted and joked with his former babysitters.
The Importance of Tradition
At the alumni versus alumni game, many of the alumni were sliding across the Field House floor and diving for balls as if they were still teenagers. Some, such as Widmer, who travelled from Atlanta to attend the event, were cautioned by family members and co-workers to contain their youthful exuberance. A professional drummer, Widmer admitted his fellow band members were less than thrilled at the idea of his playing, but it is hard to resist the chance to get on the court. This was Widmer’s second reunion after a 10-year absence, and he said he would be back.
Cocaptain of the 1984 team Jeff Abt, BSEd and MEd ’84, stopped playing in the alumni game about 12 years ago. “I got tired of getting whupped by 19 year olds,” he jokes. Still, he returns to get together with former teammates and support the current team. “Our junior year, there were no senior starters,” says Abt, who is now principal of Mayfield Intermediate School in Manassas. “We were a tight-knit bunch. Some of these guys are like brothers to me.”
Abt met his wife, Lisa Corns, BS Management ’84, while at Mason and says that after graduation there were “volleyball weddings” for a number of years. “But you get busy. I haven’t seen some of these guys since my wedding,” he says, adding that his wife was also looking forward to seeing the guys.
At half-time during the Ball State game, the 1984 team took the court for a ceremony marking the anniversary. They were joined by long-time Mason employees and senior associate athletic directors Jay Marsh and Sue Collins who both played a role in Mason volleyball’s rise to national prominence.
In 2009, the men’s volleyball team advanced to the semifinals of the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Championship Tournament for the ninth consecutive season. Most of last year’s team is returning, and it looks as if it will be a strong season for men’s volleyball as three members from this year’s incoming group of players were named to Volleyball Magazine’s Fab 50 list.
And volleyball alumni will also be returning for a reunion, tentatively scheduled for February 2010. “We do it every year because it’s important for alumni to support the program and the university,” says Claney, who is already planning the event. “When I think back on all the memories and life lessons learned while on the team, I realize it couldn’t have happened without the alumni support. Now that I’m an alum, it’s my responsibility to ‘pay forward’ the opportunities that were given to me.”