Classic Image of Volleyball from the collection of Dane Ghiradelli
Los Angeles, 1984
Beach Volleyball, Gold (Coaching)
Beach Volleyball is one of the most popular events in the Modern Olympic games. But how did this game, forged in the yard at San Quentin Penitentiary, reach it’s heights as the game it is today? We have none other than Dane Ghiradelli to thank for its proliferation.
Dane, a member of the family of chocolatiers, was considered the black sheep of the San Francisco sweet magnates. Considered a “bit of a creep” by all who knew him, Dane was allowed to drop out of high school as it would probably take him away from his well-bred family. A draft dodger through World War II and Korea, Dane spent his teens wandering the California coast, attempting to avoid detection, and name dropping himself to children at candy shops. Attempting to cultivate a Willy Wonkaesque persona, Dane spent his days loitering in the parks, schoolyards and playgrounds of Southern California, watching all manner of man, woman and child play his favorite game: volleyball. Dane eventually was arrested for soliciting an underage prostitute and wound up sentenced to 18 months at San Quentin State Prison.
When Dane arrived at the prison in 1957, he was little prepared for the world of criminality he was about to enter. Prison Breaking was all the rage in jail due to the recent release of the classic screwball comedy Breaking In Or Breaking Up, and the yard was filled with the dust and dirt that prisoners had brought out from their cells as they attempted to dig through the brittle walls of the aging penitentiary. Dane, uninterested in leaving prison prematurely because of the sordid business within, had a single focus: getting other people play to volleyball. That said, the internal prison politics of San Quentin were such that he only was able to convince four people to participate, and only had a badminton net (which he was able to acquire by means most unsavory) to play with. The dirt on the ground slowed the players footwork, and the small dimensions meant constant big hits. Dane was profoundly excited while watching. Though the game lasted a mere eight points before being disrupted by an unspeakable act of violence, it left a deep impression on Ghiradelli’s psyche.
Upon his release, Dane moved back to Southern California in search of the rush he got watching those four men play his high speed volleyball variant. Though he again lurked around playgrounds, attempting to get teenagers to play his game, the lack of dirt on the court meant they moved to quickly. Also, the hardness of the surface discouraged the athletic diving he remembered from prison. The game wasn’t exciting enough. It was not until an unplanned amble down Hermosa Beach that Dane had his stroke of inspiration: put the game on the sand.
Thus was born a new sensation, and Dane would become the first and greatest coach the game had ever seen, taking young children like Karch Kiraly and Gabby Reese off the streets of California, and watching them bounce around from a distance, occasionally shouting directions at them. His ultimate dream was achieved when in 1984 in his hometown of Los Angeles he coached the Gold Medal American team, and got to watch from the stands through a beat up pair of binoculars as his wards achieved the highest form of greatness: Olympic greatness.