Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Archive for the ‘International Volleyball Association’ Category

1975-1978 El Paso-Juarez Sol

leave a comment

El Paso-Juarez SolInternational Volleyball Association (1975-1978)

Born: 1975 – IVA founding franchise.
Folded: Postseason 1978.

Arena: El Paso County Coliseum

Team Colors:

Owner: Wayne Vandenburg, et al.


The El Paso-Juarez Sol were a rollicking, co-ed pro volleyball squad that drew crowds to the El Paso Civic Center with a combination of international Olympic stars and cornball promotions during the late 1970’s.  The Sol were original members of the International Volleyball Association, a start-up operation in 1975 with five teams clustered in the Western U.S.  The Sol were the only team located outside of Southern California during that first season, though the league eventually grew to include clubs in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Washington.  IVA volleyball featured two women and four men on the court at all times and the league didn’t take itself too seriously.  Sol games featured a roving P.A. announcer named Paul “The Mouth” Strelzin who galloped around the arena on a stick horse.

El-Paso Juarez SolThe league managed to attract top volleyball talent from around the globe.  The Sol’s first year roster included American player-coach Mary Jo Peppler, the top female in the league and 70’s-famous from her appearances on ABC’s Superstars competition, and hirsute Brazilian hitter-blocker Lino De Melo Gama of Brazil, better known as “The Caveman”.  But the Sol finished the 1975 schedule in last place and Peppler departed.

The Sol’s finest season came in 1977.  The team lured Ed Skorek, the 34-year old hitter-blocker from Poland’s gold medal-winning team at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, to El Paso. The 6′ 5″ Pole dominated the league all summer long, even earning the relatively unknown Sol a big write-up in Sports Illustrated.  But a late season injury caused Skorek to miss the championship series.  Without the league’s best player, the Sol lost to the Orange County Stars in the 1977 IVA finals.

Skorek decided not to return to the United States in 1978 and the Sol returned to middling status in the league.  The team ran out of money during the 1978 season and the Sol closed up shop following the season.  The IVA continued on for two more years, shutting down midway through its sixth season in the summer of 1980.





The sole Pole for the Sol“, Joe Jares, Sports Illustated, August 22, 1977

International Volleyball Association Media Guides

International Volleyball Association Programs


1979-1980 Salt Lake City Stingers

leave a comment

International Volleyball Association (1979-1980)

Born: March 1979
Folded: July 1980

Arena: The Salt Palace

Team Colors:

Owner: Don Sammis


The Salt Lake City Stingers were a brief entry in the International Volleyball Association (1975-1980), a West Coast-based co-ed pro volleyball league during the 1970’s.  The team formed in early 1979, announced as the merger of the former Orange County Stars and San Diego Breakers franchises.  Whereas some IVA teams played in small high school arenas, the Stingers played their home matches in the 12,000-seat Salt Palace, which was also home to the Jazz of the NBA, newly arrived from New Orleans.

For the 1979 season, the Stingers signed a pair of top Olympians in Fernando de Avila (Brazil) and Stan Gosciniak (Poland), one of the world’s premier setters.  But the club would lose Gosciniak midway through the season when the Community government of Poland called him home to coach a university team.  The Stingers finished 17-23 and out of postseason consideration.

In August 1979, The Deseret News reported that the Stingers averaged about 2,000 fans per match with about 400 season ticket holders.  These were relatively strong numbers by IVA standards and good enough for the team to plan on a second season.

Tony Lovitt – General Manager (1979-1980)

We were probably the most solvent team, not because we were selling a lot of tickets, but because of the deep pockets of our owner, a San Diego-based real estate mogul named Don Sammis.

Salt Lake Stingers Volleyball

The IVA limped into its sixth season in May 1980 buffeted by a host of existential crises.  The league incurred a black eye in 1979 when federal agents arrested the owners of the Denver Comets club for drug trafficking. The league featured top male and female Olympians from all over the world.  But the Carter Administration’s decision to boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan deprived the IVA of a major promotional platform that investors had counted on for years.  And finally there was the condition of the franchises themselves, many of which were underfunded and bordering on insolvency.  The Seattle Smashers club folded just days before the 1980 season opened, forcing the schedule to be re-worked.  Teams in San Jose and Santa Barbara shut down midway through the season.

By July 1980 the IVA was in its death throes. The Stingers declined to travel to Denver for a scheduled match. That was effectively the end for the Stingers.  The rest of the IVA followed within a day or two.

Tony Lovitt

It was <Stingers owner> Don Sammis who, after the IVA folded, continued to be a benefactor of volleyball, attracting the USA men’s volleyball team to San Diego to train for the 1984 Olympics.



Tony Lovitt, former Stingers General Manager, interviewed in 2011



International Volleyball Association Media Guides

International Volleyball Association Programs



1977-1980 Tucson Sky

one comment

International Volleyball Association (1977-1980)

Born: 1977
Folded: July 1980.

Arena: Catalina High School Gymnasium (3,444)

Team Colors: Light Blue, Black & White

Owners: Douglas Clark, Burt Kinerk, et al.

IVA Champions: 1979


The Tucson Sky were a franchise in the co-ed International Volleyball Association from 1977 until the league disbanded in the middle of the 1980 season.  The Sky followed an earlier failed IVA team in Tucson – the Tucson Turquoise – who played for a single season in 1976 before folding.

After a last place 11-25 finish in their debut season of 1977, the Sky appeared in the IVA championshi series in both 1978 and 1979.  Both times they faced the Santa Barbara Spikers.  The Spikers took the crown in 1978, but the Sky evened the score in 1979 and won what would prove to be the final championship of the IVA.

The Sky returned for a fourth season in the summer of 1980, but by then IVA was hobbled by weak franchises in other cities and demoralized by Jimmy Carter’s decision to boycott the 1980 U.S. Olympics.  The Olympics were expected to give a profile boost to both men’s and women’s volleyball and serve as a platform for the IVA’s brand new cable deal with the fledgling ESPN network.  Instead, the league folded in July 1980 shortly before what was intended to be the All-Star Break.

“We were about two years ahead of the times,” Sky owner Doug Clark told Corky Simpson of The Tucson Citizen in 2000.  “If the league could have held out just two more years, I believe we would have been a smash hit on cable television.”

The Sky were known for a never ending parade of wacky promotions under General Manager Bob Garrett.  Click on the link to Corky Simpson’s Tucson Citizen article above for an entertaining recap of Garrett’s greatest hits.

Among the notable players to suit up for the Sky was 6′ 7″ former Phoenix Suns NBA player Scott English, who was also one of the top player in the IVA during the late 1970’s.


Sky Video

The Sky defeat the Santa Barbara Spikers for the last championship of the IVA in August 1979.



Corky Simpson’s Tucson Citizen retrospective from August 2000.

International Volleyball Association Media Guides

International Volleyball Association Programs


Written by AC

February 12th, 2013 at 6:04 pm

1979-1980 Albuquerque Lasers

one comment

International Volleyball Association (1979-1980)

Born: November 1978 – IVA expansion franchise.
Folded: 1980

Arena: Albuquerque Civic Auditorium

Team Colors:



We don’t know a whole lot about the Albuquerque Lasers, a team that played parts of two seasons in the co-ed International Volleyball Association (1975-1980) during the summers of 1979 and 1980.  The club began life as an expansion franchise in January 1979.

The IVA folded in July 1980 midway through its sixth season, taking the Lasers down with it.

NBA Hall-of-Famer Wilt Chamberlain played in three matches for the Lasers in 1979, although apparently he only made one appearance in Albuquerque.  Chamberlain was involved with the league from its inception in 1975, serving as Commissioner during the late 1970’s and also making cameo appearances for various clubs between 1975 and 1979.  The Lasers were the last club he suited up for.

If you can provide any additional information about this club, please



==In Memoriam==

Occasional Laser Wilt Chamberlain died on October 12, 1999 at age 63.



1979 Albuquerque Lasers Roster



International Volleyball Association Media Guides

International Volleyball Association Programs


1978-1979 Seattle Smashers

leave a comment

Seattle SmashersInternational Volleyball Association (1978-1979)

Born: 1977 – IVA expansion franchise.
Folded: May 1980.

Arena: Seattle Center Arena (4,500)

Team Colors: Camel & Navy

Owner: Bob Mussehl

IVA Championships: None


The Seattle Smashers were a co-ed professional volleyball franchise. The team lasted for two summer seasons in Seattle in 1978 and 1979.  The Smashers formed in March 1977 as an expansion franchise in the International Volleyball Association (1975-1980) and had a 15-month ramp up to their debut in June 1978.

Seattle personal injury attorney Bob Mussehl was the majority owner.  Mussehl got into the Seattle sports scene after Seattle Supersonics star Spencer Haywood suffered a knee injury in a slip-and-fall case in the Seattle Center Coliseum. Mussehl represented Haywood in the lawsuit and later became his agent. He then signed up several other stars of the Supersonics teams of the late 1970’s, including Zaid Abdul-Aziz, Fred Brown and Slick Watts.

It was Abdul-Aziz, according to this 2008 article by Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Dan Raley, who talked up the idea of a pro volleyball franchise to Mussehl.  Abdul-Aziz would become a minority partner in the Smashers.

The basketball theme continued when the fledgling Smashers announced in February 1978 that 41-year old NBA superstar Wilt Chamberlain agreed to the first half of the 1978 season – 15 matches – with Seattle.  Chamberlain was already the Commissioner of the IVA. He suited up intermittently for various clubs in the the league during the late 1970’s.  He planned to leave the Smashers at mid-season to concentrate on his league administrative duties, whatever those might have been.

Chamberlain, however, backed out of the agreement after playing just a single match in the Camel & Navy colored uniform of the Smashers.  Chamberlain played for Seattle on June 1, 1978 in a home game against the Tucson Sky at the 4,500-seat Seattle Center Arena.

Chamberlain’s appearances in the IVA were always something of a sideshow.  Beyond Chamberlain, the Smashers had some truly world class volleyball players, including the Polish Olympian Stan Gosciniak, regarded as one of the best setters in the world, the former UC-Santa Barbara All-American Jeff Reddan and the team’s female star Linda Fernandez, who had some notoriety as a two-time winner of ABC’s multi-sport Superstars competition for women.  The IVA required that two female players be on the floor at all times.

The league enjoyed several years of modest growth on the West Coast. The high water mark, perhaps, was a national broadcast of the league’s 1977 All-Star Game on CBS television. But the league started to suffer some body blows towards the end of the decade.  In August 1979, federal agents raided the office of the IVA”s Denver Comets franchise and the homes of several employees.  The Comets were one of the league’s flagship clubs. It turned out the team’s owners were running a massive, multi-state cocaine and marijuana trafficking ring out of the front office.

The death blow came the following winter after President Jimmy Carter announced the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.  The league featured Olympians from all over the world and were counting on the games as a major promotional platform.  The league also expected a TV contract on the fledgling ESPN network coming off of the Olympics.  The American pullout deflated the league.  Owners pushed forward half-heartedly with a 1980 season. Several clubs folded early on and ultimately the entire league shutdown without managing to complete the 1980 schedule.

The Seattle Smashers were the first club to fall by the wayside after the Olympic boycott.  The Smashers ran out of money and folded in early May 1980, on the eve of what would have been their third season.  (You can see in the pocket schedule above that the team had already printed up promotional material for a 1980 season, which was never played).


1978 Seattle Smashers Preseason Roster



International Volleyball Association Media Guides

International Volleyball Association Programs


Written by AC

January 9th, 2013 at 6:33 pm


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: