Selznick still working his magic with the game of volleyball
After more than 50 years in the business, the beach-court volleyball virtuoso Gene Selznick is still as in love with the game as he was in 1950s when he was just another young kid playing with his buddies during the summers in Southern California.
Nowhere is it more evident for the 71-year-old Hall of Fame spiker than at his annual week-long camp at Kingsbury Middle School.
While most people are out enjoying the sun and water that the South Shore has to offer during the summer, Selznick and his devoted pupils are sweating the day away playing volleyball.
“Gene is the best coach in the world,” said Jessica Kronstadt, who plays at Yale. “Whenever I come back from school I play with him.”
Selznick’s camp has about 20 campers who are devoted to his regime and return year after year. Kronstadt, from Pacific Palisades, Calif., has known the legend since she was a freshman in high school and has come to Zephyr Cove for three years. Jenna Grigsby, also from Pacific Palisades, is a sophomore at Cal and is at the camp for the second year in a row, but like Kronstadt, she has known Selznick since she was in ninth grade.
“It’s a good way to play and get back into playing shape before two-a-days at Cal,” she said. “By playing here for seven-to-eight hours a day, our games really round back into shape.”
Joining Grigsby and Kronstadt are five other collegiate players from University of Pennsylvania, Villanova and San Diego.
With a coach from Southern California and players from all over the country, why has Zephyr Cove been the home of the camp since 1989?
There are many reasons why Selznick chooses the local: one, he is part-time resident, and two, it is a great change from the busy Southern California scene.
“It’s so much easier to run the camp up here,” Selznick said. “It’s more exciting and it gives the girls at chance to concentrate on volleyball.”
But it isn’t all work and no play for the campers. After the daily workouts, the campers are treated to shows and time at the beach. They receive special deals on personal watercraft rentals, allowing them the unique opportunity to Lake Tahoe like other summer visitors.
The girls who compete in the camp come long distances not only for love of the game, but also for the love they have for their mentor.
Selznick has the innate ability to make them strive to be the best no matter where they are.
In Grigsby’s first game as a Golden Bear, she was put into serve against the always powerful UCLA Bruins. Despite her nerves, she nailed her serve because she saw the former Olympian in the stands.
“My parents asked me afterwards if I was nervous that I’d miss the serve and I told them I was more afraid of what Gene would do if I missed,” Grigsby said.
Selznick’s imprint in the sport is evident throughout the world. During the last Summer Olympics, he guided the duo of Holly McPeak and Misty May to Australia to compete and just recently returned from Marseille, France, where McPeak, with her new partner Lisa Arce, finished third in a beach tournament.
“We had a great time in Australia. The place was always packed,” said Selznick, who was an alternate on the 1964 U.S. team. “But I’m also looking forward to Greece in a couple years as well.”
Obviously in his years as a coach and a player, “The Godfather of Beach Volleyball” has seen his sport reach heights no one expected, but he is still excited to see where it will and can go.
“Just trying to get it into the Olympics was a chore, but now it’s one of the first sports to sell out,” he said. “The crowd is very casual and really get into the events.”
Being involved in both the outdoor and indoor games throughout the years, he has seen how both have transformed and has noticed how both games have become more similar as time has gone by.
“The beach game is not as quick, where as with the inside game everything is very quick,” said Selznick, who won 26 park and recreation tournaments in Southern California from 1950 to 1966. “But with either game you always have to remain in the game both mentally and physically.
“Indoors helps the outdoors and vice versa.”
As time moves forward, Selznick has also seen the game go international and has been impressed with the level of play overseas since last summer’s Olympics.
“The international players have really improved since beginning in 1991,” he said. “The Americans are really going to have their work cut out for them in Greece.”
For now, however, he is content with working with his local players.
“This week has been dynamite. I love working with these kids,” he said.
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