By RENE TORRES
Special to the Parade
In 1895, William G. Morgan, an instructor at the YMCA in Holyoke, Mass., created a game for his businessmen classes that demanded less physical contact than any other sport.
It was then that “Volley Ball” was born. On July 7, 1896 at Springfield College, the net game took its first bow and the rest is history.
Locally, volleyball was here soon after the year of its birth. There are several photos from the Robert Runyon collection of the game being played at Fort Brown during their field day celebrations.
By 1916-1917 and perhaps earlier, the boys and girls at Brownsville High School (BHS) were playing a high caliber game of volleyball. Although the game lived in the shadows of the core sports, the athletes that played the game were no strangers to their classmates – as most were all-around athletes. Standing on our side of the net stood a strong line-up in the likes of Joe Celaya, James Skelton, Carl Weller, Billie Mendenhall, Morris Clint, Henry Skelton, D.K. Clint, George McGonigle, Burnell Goodrich and J. Walton.
The boys started the season with a bang as they defeated San Benito and Wilson Track with relative easy on the home court. But things were not as rosy when the local boys next traveled to San Benito where they were embarrassed and badly beaten.
The team used the excuse that they had played a game of football the day before. But the school newspaper (El Palmetto) wrote the truth, “The matter is that they were just up in the air with some of the players failing to arrive and those who were there had left their wits at home.”
A holiday spectacular
One of the most high profile games of the season was played on a holiday, Liberty Day, which was named in honor of the Statue of Liberty. It was one of the best attended games as almost the whole school came to witness the revenge match against San Benito.
The activities had all the glamour and pageantry of a football game. There was plenty of cheering and yelling and music to go along with the game. The feature attraction, aside from the contest on the court, was Henry Skelton’s band – or better described as the “tin-can brigade.”
It was a 55-piece band that included such instruments as tin pans, buckets and, in fact, almost anything that would make a distracting noise – in rhythm of course.
As the teams were going through their warms-ups, the band rendered several selections and then favored the audience with one long composition after the game got started.
San Benito also brought a healthy number of supporters along with their band. The band included two pieces, the cornet and trombone and obviously our group was too much for them. They could not be heard and appeared like in the silent films of then, just going through the motions.
With no lack of support, the local boys could not loose, but they did as San Benito was no lollipop team. The visitors used the newly introduced skill of set and spike (introduced in 1916) to their advantage as they silenced the crowd taking the first game of the match 15 to 9.
But Brownsville came back in the second game with some spectacular plays to dominate their opponents 15-1. With the win, the final game was a thriller that provided plenty of exciting moments for the home crowd.
The last game had long periods where the ball was going back and forth across the net – naturally furnishing more excitement for the spectators. San Benito was putting on a show, as they demonstrated how they could go up in the air, but while they showed off we won the game 15-8, and the championship title of Cameron County.
Brownsville went on to compete for the district title against Raymondville and lost. They ran into something better than they were. The local boys won the first game and then got over confident and were swept in the last two.