My interview with Don Shondell on Thursday the 13th was quite an eye-opener. For nearly four weeks we have been researching, discussing, and filming from a distance. However, we knew we were missing the key human aspect of our story (in the making). Interviews were to be the next step. Don Shondell was a perfect choice for the first of the interviews. He took me through fifty years of his volleyball experience. His stories ranged from coaching in the army to watching his three sons play announcer at pretend volleyball games to his seven granddaughters volleyball successes. (The eighth granddaughter is too young to play yet, but given the Shondell history, one can assume volleyball is in her future!)
I found Don’s take on gender in sports one of the most intriguing parts of the interview. Men’s volleyball has had a rocky history that continues still into the present. Issues range from a reputation as a “hit and giggle sport”, as labeled by Don’s first athletic director, to facing serious threat of being cut in very recent years despite the program’s overwhelming history of success.
However, the biggest stressor for the Men’s Volleyball program seems to have stemmed from Title IX, the piece of legislation passed in 1972, providing that no state-funded program can discriminate on the basis of gender. In trying to accommodate that, many less acclaimed sports got pushed aside in the effort to equally fund women’s sports. Don talked of scholarships being cut from the men’s teams as well as reoccurring threat of cutting the sport altogether. Obviously as a long time coach and lover of the game, this has been extremely difficult to swallow for Don and so many others. Yet, he spoke of it with no bitterness in his tone. He also mentioned more than once how great it has been for females to finally get their chance, including his granddaughters. In summation, he noted realistically and calmly that he could only do his best and work with what he had, no matter the situation.
My own conclusion was that only a true lover of the game could not only handle turbulent times but prevail during them. Interviewing Don was a joy. I only hope we manage to capture his enthusiasm in our film.