[ Robert Silverman ]
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A Jewel in our Community Grows
Outdoor Community Recreational Volleyball Celebrates It's Silver Anniversary with two New Courts

For the last 25 years recreational volleyball has taken place at the south end of Jeanne Mance Park. From its modest beginnings on one primitive court in June 1973, our community volleyball collective has grown into a vast recreo-sport activity with six sand-filled courts attracting about 500 volleyball aficionados per week. On weekdays the courts open at 1 PM and on weekends at 11 AM. There is a one dollar fee per day.

The Beginnings of Community Volleyball

The volleyball collective stems from the heart of the Milton Park community. In the early 1970's. in the context of the long-term struggle of the Milton Park Citizens Committee to preserve our neighborhood from physical destruction by Concordia Estates Limited who wished to construct a gigantic real estate complex for wealthy people. Our dwellings were to be destroyed for this megaproject.

On a regular basis street festivals were held to promote solidarity and raise consciousness between local residents. Some of us discovered that makeshift outdoor volleyball on these rubbish lots where the festivals were held was an extremely popular activity at these festivals.

In September, 1973, the then local activist Ann Dillon called me to suggest we start a volleyball group at the University Settlement, now Le Centre Multi Ethnique St. Urbain on St. Urban street above Milton. We made a few phone calls and we started the gym volleyball with about 6 players in September, 1973. It was a lot of fun. The word of it spread and gradually our numbers grew. By October around 18 people were coming every Thursday night. There clearly was a demand for accessible, community, recreational volleyball. And then I wrote a small article about it published in the Quebec Volleyball Association newsletter.

Patrice Hary, at that time technical director of the Quebec Volleyball Federation, and a former player on the French national team, noticed the article and suggested we play outdoors in the coming summer - as he did in Paris - in Jeanne Mance Park. He gave us a contact, Real Verschelden at the Service des Sports of the City of Montreal.

So Terrence Regan and myself called Verschelden a few days later. To our amazement, Verschelden was very positive but wanted to assure himself that the proposed courts were to be used for adults, as he noted that adolescents had significant sports activities in their schools.

The same April day we called, Regan and I met him in his car at the corner of Esplanade and Duluth. He drove us through the melting snow of the park looking for a suitable and empty location for the courts. Finally, south of Duluth, and adjacent to the walls of the Grey Nuns Convent, Verschelden exclaimed: "Gentlemen, the court will be installed here and you can begin in a few months".

In early May, 1973, two stop signs suddenly appeared in that spot. In early June City workmen began leveling the court, laid out the approximate lines and poured gravel between them. On June 23, Verschelden phoned us to come to his offices on Ontario East to pick up a volleyball net and two balls.

Verschelden had kept his word. Terrence and I phoned the people who played with us in the winter. We began playing outdoors on this primitive gravel court on Jean Baptiste day holiday, 1974.

Continuous Growth

Over the years, the physical facilities improved. More stop signs, this time with round hooks at the top were installed by the City. The director of the Public Works Department at the time, Pierre Bourque, ordered the construction of a a high fence to prevent balls from continuing to land in the garden of the Gray Nuns. Later, the City permitted us to store our nets and balls in a room in the lavatory building at the corner of Park and Duluth. And in 1992, a giant qualitative improvement to the courts arrived with the laying down of sand on all four courts.

Integrating Immigrants

A substantial number of the regular players have been and are new Canadians. Our records show that players have come from over 100 countries and from all continents but Antarctica.

Under an agreement with the recreational department of the City of Montreal, the six sand courts are administered by the Milton Park Recreational Association. The court animator during the week is Terrence Regan, cofounder with myself of the outdoor volleyball collective, and a consistent and indispensable-among other deeds installing and removing the nets-volunteer for 23 years. The weekend coordinator is Saeed, an efficient and meticulous animator.

We welcome all three major styles of volleyball: six on six; four on four and two on two. However we often have more than 100 people at the courts and players wait their turn to play. Since two on two players use three times as much space per player as those playing six on six, we recommend they play at non-peak hours early in the day, as for reasons of equality, equity and spatial justice, our animators , at peak volume hours, will request the two on two players to vacate the coveted courts or join in a six on six game.

Throughout our 25 year history we have striven to keep our volleyball accessible to all people at all levels of skill. Our animators and other experienced players instruct beginners in basic techniques in a designated area adjacent to court one. We strive so that playing has priority over winning and that, the only individual act in volleyball, the serve, be easy so that the other side will return the ball and thus assure a minimum exchange of volleys as we have noted over the years that the longest volleys are the most agreeable to both sides and often lead to spontaneous applause from both those who won and lost the exchange.

Clearly, recreation volleyball at its finest is an expression of a social contract among all the players. When it is of six it is grandiose; when the social contract is of 12, both sides, it is divine.

Volleyball can be poetry in motion to the constant rhythm of bump, set, spike and block. It can be highly spiritual and a well of social pleasure.

Here is mine;

Let's put the ball in the air
and while it whirls
regard it with love and care
not the creed of personal gain
nor competition's ceaseless pain
but the ideology of the other
where every player
is sister and brother.

Join us on the courts.

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By Robert Silverman, co-founder Outdoor Volleyball Collective.

Love on the Court: Our Volleyball Consciousness | Volleyball for All

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© Robert Silverman 2000