A Volleyball Visionary
Oct. 21, 2012
By Larry Stewart
On Dec. 14, 1965, not long after Pauley Pavilion opened, some 5,000 showed up for a volleyball tripleheader. At the time, it was the largest crowd ever for volleyball in the United States.
In the first match, UCLA defeated USC, 3-0. Then the Japanese national women's team, who the year before won the Olympic gold medal in Tokyo, quickly dispatched the U.S. women, 3-0. In the evening's final match, a best-of-five sets event, the U.S. national men's team, facing Olympic silver medalist Japan, scored a 3-1 upset victory.
A member of that U.S. team was Al Scates, who, two years earlier, had become UCLA's head coach. Scates also was the organizer and promoter of the tripleheader, which proved to be a turning point for volleyball.
In the summer of 1965, only about 250 fans had showed up at Carson High School to watch the U.S. men face off against the national team from France.
So the turnout for the Pauley Pavilion tripleheader was an eye-opener, and it made quite an impression on UCLA Athletic Director J.D. Morgan.
"There was no attendance figure, but afterward J.D. came over and told me he estimated the crowd to be more than 5,000 paid customers," Scates said. "He also told me he was going to get the NCAA to recognize volleyball as an official sport."
Morgan achieved that goal in 1970.
That was also the year Scates and UCLA began an incredible run of 19 NCAA championships. Nine of those titles were won in Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins beat Long Beach State in the title match in 1970 and UC Santa Barbara the next year in Pauley. UCLA's third consecutive national championship was won at Ball State with a victory over San Diego State.
The other titles won at home came in 1975, 1979, 1984, 1987, 1989, 1993 and 1996.
In the 1984 championship match at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA defeated Pepperdine, 3-1, to complete a 38-0 season. It was one of the Bruins' three undefeated seasons. They were 30-0 in 1979 and 29-0 in 1982. No other men's college volleyball team has had even one undefeated season.
The attendance for that 1984 title match was 9,809, another record for volleyball.
If there is one person who did more for the sport of men's volleyball in this country, that person would be Al Scates.
This is how UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero phrases it: "Al Scates stands alone in his contribution to the sport of men's volleyball. Al is among the greatest coaches in the history of college sports."
Scates, 73, retired after last season, his 50th as UCLA's coach, and he finished with a record a 1,239-290 and a winning percentage of .812.
John Speraw, one of Scates' players, has been given the task of replacing a legend. Speraw spent the past 10 years at UC Irvine, guiding the Anteaters to three NCAA championships (2007, '09, '12).
Scates will be honored in the new Pauley Pauley on Nov. 11. At 2 p.m., there will be a match between the current UCLA men's team and an alumni team, followed at 3:30 by a social half-hour and then a retirement program featuring video, speakers and Scates himself.
Among other things, Scates no doubt will talk about his ominous start at UCLA.
When he applied for the job in 1963, he told Athletic Director Wilbur Johns that he didn't want to get paid because he wanted to remain an amateur so as not to jeopardize his Olympic eligibility.
When Johns heard that, Scates recalled, "He jumped out of his chair to shake my hand and told me, 'Al, you're the kind of man we're looking for. You're hired.'"
Scates had to keep his day job as an elementary school teacher.
An All-American as a player, a legend as a coach, Scates said he has no regrets about his decision to retire. After having his right knee replaced last year, he is working on his golf game and has lost 24 pounds.
Scates and his wife Sue live in Encino. They have three children and four grandchildren.
Scates tries to play golf five times a week at various city courses such as Rancho Park, Wilson or Harding in Griffith Park, and Balboa or Encino near his home. Asked about his handicap, he only said, "It's embarrassing."
Also, because of the new Pac-12 Networks, Scates has returned to broadcasting. He is currently working women's volleyball matches and will be working men's matches, including UCLA's, when that season starts in January.
Up until 1973, whenever volleyball was on ABC's "Wide World of Sports," which wasn't very often, Scates was called up to lend his expertise. But one time in 1973 when he couldn't make an assignment, he suggested a talkative star from San Diego State named Chris Marlowe, who had led the Aztecs to the NCAA title that year.
"They liked Chris so much, that was the end of my television career - until now," Scates said.
And he got the job with the Pac-12 Networks, sometimes working alongside Marlowe, without having to work for free.
CLick for Bruin Video