Volleyball Builds Its Popularity On the Sand; Dream Coach

VOLLEYBALL, like softball, has at least one foot firmly planted in the recreational area -- some might say in the sand, given the popularity of beach volleyball.

Getting people to pay attention to high-caliber volleyball competition isn't easy, which is where beach volleyball, with its fun-in-the-sun image, has made headway with spectators. The beach version, with its bronze-bodied, bathing-suited men and women spikers, has a television appeal that traditional indoor volleyball lacks, which may explain why beach volleyball has been added to the Olympic program next year in Atlanta.

Players who toil inside, though, form the closest link to the sport's origins, which were celebrated over the weekend in Springfield, Mass. The National Collegiate Athletic Association held its men's national championship there as part of volleyball's 100th anniversary. The sport was invented a short distance away in Holyoke, Mass., by William G. Morgan, a physical-fitness instructor who followed in the steps of another YMCA pioneer, James Naismith, who invented basketball several years earlier. Morgan wanted to develop an alternative to basketball for a noontime businessmen's class. He originally used a tennis net, a nine-inning format, and the name ''minonette.''

Today's college game is a high-powered, dynamic sport. On the men's side, it is dominated by California teams, which have won 25 of the last 26 tournaments. UCLA won its 15th Division I title Saturday with a 3-games-to-none victory over defending champion Penn State. Indiana's Ball State University and the University of Hawaii were the other Final Four teams.

At the same time this tournament was occurring, hundreds of amateur enthusiasts engaged in a three-on-three grass tournament on the intramural fields of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. Spikefest '95 was the brainchild of Rodney Hand, a Dallas advertising executive who has enjoyed great success with a similar all-comers event in Dallas. He envisions taking the concept to California and Chicago in the next few years.

Hand casts his tournaments as more family affairs than the beer-sponsored beach-volleyball events. Here, the sponsor is a mouthwash, Listerine, and no alcohol is served. He thinks the grass game is a happy medium, too, between the two-player beach teams and the six-player regular volleyball. The grass game incorporates higher leaping and faster running than on beaches and provides a more forgiving surface than hardwood floors.

Wilkens gets dream job

LENNY WILKENS wasn't given long to bask in the news that he will coach the United States men's basketball team in the 1996 Centennial Olympics. Shortly after Wilkens was given the ''keys'' to the powerful American national team, his National Basketball Association squad, the Atlanta Hawks, was dismissed from the postseason playoffs with three straight losses to Indiana.

Nonetheless, Wilkens seems an ideal Olympic choice. He is the NBA's winningest coach of all time, he has long experience in dealing with professional players, who now comprise the US roster, and he was an assistant to Chuck Daly on the original Dream Team in 1992.

And, oh, yes, he can drive to the Olympics from home, since the Games are in Atlanta.

The NBA has decided to call the Olympic contingent simply the Dream Team, and drop the Roman numeral designation used at last summer's world championships, when the US stars were marketed as Dream Team II.

Touching other bases

* Pop quiz: What widely televised major-league baseball team, now in its third city, has been called ''America's Team'' in the title of a new book? (Answer at end.)

* It's conceivable that baseball star Cal Ripken won't see a high, hard inside pitch all season. What pitcher would dare throw him one, knowing that anyone who even unintentionally injures the Baltimore shortstop might end Ripken's bid to break Lou Gehrig's ''ironman'' record? Ripken entered the season 121 games shy of Gehrig's mark of 2,130 consecutive games played and could surpass this landmark during the latter part of the current campaign.

* At some colleges, phys. ed. courses may be seen as havens for less-serious students. This is clearly not the case at Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., a leader in physical education. When students enroll, their sights are often set on administrative, teaching, and coaching positions, not on pie-in-the-sky professional athletic opportunities. Springfield sports information director Ken Cerino recently examined alumni records and discovered that 38 graduates are currently serving as athletic directors at four-year American institutions.

* As Olympic cities go, Atlanta may lack the centuries-old cultivation and ambiance of Barcelona, Spain, the last host. Atlanta, however, will strive for new cultural heights. During the 1996 Centennial Games, the city will host the first global art exhibition ever planned in conjunction with an Olympics. ''Rings: Five Passions in World Art'' will draw on Olympic symbolism by grouping 100 artworks, including many masterpieces, into five themes -- love, anguish, awe, triumph, and joy.

* Trivia nugget: No Boston Celtic has ever won the National Basketball Association scoring title. Six Celtics, however, have won scoring crowns before arriving in Boston, including Dominique Wilkins. This season, Wilkins became only the ninth NBA player in history to score more than 25,000 points. He led the league with 30.3 points per game while with Atlanta nine years ago. Other NBA scoring champions who eventually wore Celtic green are Dave Bing, Nate Archibald, Pete Maravich, and Bob McAdoo.

* Quiz answer: The Braves. The team played in Boston and Milwaukee before a 1966 move to Atlanta, where it became a fixture on Ted Turner's national TBS cable television. Sportscaster Pete Van Wieren and sportswriter Bob Klapisch produced a wonderfully illustrated retrospective, ''The Braves: An Illustrated History of America's Team'' (Turner Publishing, 272 pp., $29.95 hardcover, $19.95 paperback).

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