A Brief History of Volleyball in Lethbridge
William Morgan, the director of the Holyoke, Massachusetts YMCA, invented volleyball in 1895. Morgan wanted to supplement the organization’s physical education program, and took elements from existing court sports such as basketball, tennis, and baseball, reworking their rules to create volleyball. The purpose of this new sport was to provide a less aggressive alternative to existing court sport like basketball that could be played by the young and old. By 1900, the sport moved outside the United Sates to Canada, first appearing in the larger cities in the east including Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal.
Volleyball reached Lethbridge in 1912, when the city hosted the Sons of England volleyball team. By the late 1920s, surrounding communities such as Barons, Cardston, Burdett, Macleod, Spring Coulee, and Iron Springs began to adopt the sport. At this time in Lethbridge, volleyball was being used as a recreational activity at boy’s camps or family holidays. In the 1930s volleyball entered communities including Raymond and Magrath as the sport became a popular recreation for religious groups, and in 1933 the Inter-Church Athletic Association was formed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Leagues then began to form in communities throughout southern Alberta with a shift from recreational to more competitive play.
By the 1940s, volleyball’s popularity had increased immensely and was introduced into the Lethbridge school system at the junior and senior high levels, along with intramural teams. Schools in Lethbridge that took up volleyball at the time included: Westminster, Central, Galbraith, Fleetwood, St. Basils, Patterson, and Buchanan. At the same time volleyball became increasingly present in the city’s schools in the 1950s, organizations such as the Canadian Volleyball Association (1953) and the Alberta Volleyball Association (1957) were formed to provide administrative organization that further fostered the growth of the sport.
The 1960s saw significant growth of volleyball in Lethbridge. Organizers of volleyball began to host and plan tournaments around the city. With this increased growth and organization, city high school teams began to compete and reach provincial playoffs. The interest in volleyball also extended to the city’s post-secondary institutions. Lethbridge College, which had supported intramural play for several years, entered teams for men and women into the Alberta College Athletic Conference (ACAC) for the 1968-69 season. That same year, the University formed its own volleyball team, joining the Western Canada Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
Through the 1970s, volleyball tournaments and programs continued to expand. The university’s volleyball teams were now travelling outside of the province to attend tournaments. The University of Lethbridge volleyball team also hosted their first Classic Pronghorn Volleyball Tournament in 1979. Once the west campus opened, Jim Day, a university faculty member, created a program called the Southern Alberta Volleyball Age Group Experience (SAVAGE). The program was created for post-secondary students to continue competing after high school. More success came to the university as it applied for entrance to the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union (CIAU) for the 1978-79 season. This resulted in the university teams becoming part of a highly competitive volleyball league with a national following.
By the 1980s, volleyball continued to thrive. Howard Rasmussen (2009 Alberta Volleyball Hall of Fame, Coach) became the university men’s volleyball coach in 1983. Rasmussen took it upon himself to recruit outside of southern Alberta to find the talent required to build a successful program. Steve Wilson (2018 Builder) took the helm of the university’s women’s program from 1979 to 1985, and both teams began to improve toward national level contention. More positive publicity for the sport in Lethbridge occurred in 1989 when the city hosted the Canadian Men’s National Team versus the Korean National Team in an exhibition game held at the University gym. Unfortunately, success and promotion did not guarantee the sport’s continued place at the university. In 1988, the men’s volleyball team was removed from the athletics program due to budget constraints.
Into the early 1990s, the university women’s volleyball team saw some positive results, and with the success of the women’s program, support emerged for a men’s club team playing on a trial basis with an eye to bringing the team back into the athletics program in 1991. Yet, broader financial concerns once again intervened, as the university’s General Faculties Council and the Board of Governors decided to cut the women’s volleyball team. From this point to the present, volleyball continues at Lethbridge College, in the high schools, various club teams (both recreational and competitive), as well as through a strong co-ed program.
Today, volleyball remains a popular sport in Lethbridge, but does not necessarily enjoy the same status and visibility it enjoyed in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The decisions by the university to move away from volleyball in the 1980s and early 1990s have not been reversed. However, Lethbridge College continues to support a strong volleyball program that remains competitive every season. As well, successes the in high schools continue, including, for example, the exceptional career of Rachel Evans (2008 Athlete) who moved from the strong LCI program to success with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Additionally, the LCI Rams Senior Boys (2011 Team) accomplished an undefeated season in 2007, going 59-0. Beyond the strength of high school volleyball, Lethbridge also boasts a very strong co-ed program for gym and beach volleyball. The addition of the beach courts in Softball Valley has supported the program by hosting competitive play. Finally, the Lethbridge Volleyball Club, formed in the 1980s by Ard Biesheuvel and Peter Chivilo, remains instrumental in producing high quality volleyball athletes who continue to represent their city at the highest levels of the sport.