A Tribute to Flo Hyman - Always a Cougar



With a week leading up to Houston's Flo Hyman Collegiate Cup, we honor a Cougar Great in Flo Hyman.

Flo Hyman, considered one of the most influential volleyball players in University of Houston history, was a three-year letterwinner from 1974-76 for the Cougars. She was a 1998 Hall of Honor inductee after being named a three-time AIAW All-America honoree. She was also named AIAW National Player of the Year in 1976 and went on to represent to USA National Team capture a silver medal at the 22nd Olympiad in Los Angeles, Calif. with Houston teammates Rita Crockett and Rose Magers. 



Courtesy of: http://www.volleyhall.org/hyman.html

Inducted as Player 1988

It is impossible to quantify the impact Flo Hyman had on the sport of volleyball with just words. She was the most famous volleyball player of the time, not just here in the United States, but also worldwide.

Flo was a sight for sore eyes in a time when athletics was starting to become all about individual glory. Her charisma and devotion were both focused on the team rather than herself as an individual. Flo and her six foot five inch frame had it all, speed, strength and finesse. There was no other volleyball player like her anywhere in the world at the time.

Flo was born in Los Angeles on July 29, 1954. She discovered volleyball and her destiny while attending high school in Inglewood, California. She would attend college at the University of Houston where she was named a collegiate All-American three times. In 1975 she joined the USVBA's year round training squad and was named a first team All-American 1976, 1977, and 1978. She was the Most Valuable Player in 1977.

She was on the U.S. Olympic squad in 1980 and 1984. In 1980 the U.S. boycotted the games in Moscow, but in 1984 Flo captained the silver medal winning team. Some of her other international achievements include playing in the World Championships in 1978 and 1982 (Bronze Medal), the World Cup in 1977 and 1981, when she was named the Best Attacker, the Pan-Am Games in 1975, 1979, and 1983, the NORCECA Championships in 1975, 1977, 1979, 1981 and 1983, and the World University Games in 1973 and 1977. She was named All World and selected as the Most Valuable Player in countless international tournaments, as well as being named to numerous All-Star Teams. In 1985 she was named one of the All-Time Great Volleyball Players.

The world prematurely lost Flo in January of 1986 when she collapsed during a match in the Japanese League. She was a victim of Marfan Syndrome, a sickness that she never knew she had. With news of her passing, people were grieving the whole world over. In a tribute to Flo at a special memorial service conduted at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, the following remarks were made about Flo: "Flo was more than a great athlete who pioneered in her sport and achieved so many firsts... She left us as she would have wanted us to remember her, fighting hard for the success that only commitment would realize and encouraging her teammates to seek and attain those lofty goals with her. She was and will continue to be an example that we all should emulate as we pass through life no matter what path we choose to walk. We will never see her like again. No one will ever lead U.S. Volleyball to so many proud and satisfying moments in the world arena. We are all much better because she was with us for a while but we are left so empty and unfulfilled because she left too soon." (USVBA)


Flora "Flo" Hyman: VolleyballAmerican Star of the Women's International Sports Hall of Fame

Courtesy of http://www.womentalksports.com/athlete/934/FloraFlo-Hyman and was written by Jessica Bartter.

A bright star burned out early when Flo Hyman collapsed to her death during a professional volleyball match in Japan at age 31. Her friends, family, and fans were distraught over her death and although Flo had nicknamed herself the "old lady" of volleyball, they all believed her life and career were far too premature to come to an end. But sadly, on January 24, 1986, her life and career ended in the same instant. 

Though almost certainly on her way to bigger and better things, Hyman accomplished a tremendous amount during her short life and career, becoming the face of American volleyball as it was catapulted from a recreational pastime to the popular college and youth sport it is today. Hyman's own participation in volleyball started recreationally as she and her older sister, Suzanne, would head to the beach from her hometown of Inglewood, California, to look for some pick-up games and tournaments on the sand. Beach volleyball adds several elements of difficulty to the sport of volleyball since simple athletic moments like running and jumping can turn into tremendous feats in the sand. Needless to say, this start greatly prepared Hyman for the force she would become on the indoor courts.

In high school, Hyman played basketball and ran track and field, but she did not play competitive volleyball until she reached her full height of 6 feet, 5 inches tall at age 17. Her lack of competitive volleyball experience did not seem to affect her abilities and she earned the first female athletic scholarship awarded by the University of Houston in 1974. The three-time All-American (1974-76) and Most Outstanding Collegiate Player (1976) managed to double major in mathematics and physical education, but chose to leave college early to capitalize on her volleyball skills. She had always planned to return to school to graduate when her volleyball career ended. Referring to balancing her volleyball career with her education, she once said, "You can go to school when you're 60. You're only young once, and you can only do this once."She unfortunately never had the chance to return to school and graduate; her volleyball career was still blossoming when she died. 

Hyman left the University of Houston in 1976 because she saw the great need the national team had for players like herself. After placing fifth and eighth in the 1964 and 1968 Olympic Games, respectively, the U.S. national team did not even qualify for the Olympics in 1972 or 1976; Hyman wanted that to change. With Hyman at the helm, the U.S. team qualified for the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games and was even thought to be the favorite for gold, but like 61 other nations, the United States boycotted the Moscow Games.

Determined to put American women's volleyball on the international radar, Hyman remained with the team and pushed them for another four years. Together they won a bronze medal at the 1982 World Championships in Peru and a silver medal at the 1983 Pan American Games in Caracas. When the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles arrived, the American team was ready and the Hyman family was excited to watch her represent the United States in their very own hometown.

Suzanne, the eldest of the eight Hyman children, recalled watching her little sister and former teammate, Florie--as she was affectionately known to her large family--lose the gold medal match. "The family was up in the stands, crying," she said. "But Florie came by and waved. You could see her smile. She was happy. She had reached her goal. She had played for a gold medal. I thought to myself `If she is happy, why am I crying?'"2 The team that had never before medaled in Olympic history earned the silver medal, which is still the highest finish ever for a women's Olympic indoor volleyball team. The 2008 Beijing Olympics saw a repeat silver medal finish when the American women lost to Brazil in the gold medal match.

After those Summer Games, Hyman moved to Japan to play professionally. While abroad, she realized the United States did not give women's sports as much respect as other countries did. She often returned home to advocate for increased opportunities and funds for female athletes. She also joined forces with civil rights leader Coretta Scott King, democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, and astronaut Sally Ride to lobby for the Civil Rights Restoration Act and strengthening of Title IX.

Hyman had planned to play in Japan for two seasons before returning home to give her full attention to broadcasting and coaching American volleyball and continuing her advocacy for equal rights. She had already helped bump up her team Daiei from Japan's third division to the first division. Yet, it was during her second season in 1986, while playing a match in Matsue City, when she collapsed on the bench after routinely subbing out of a game. Her death was first attributed to a heart attack, but her family asked for an autopsy upon her body's return to California. The autopsy found that Hyman's death actually pointed to a disease known as Marfan Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that can affect many body systems, including the skeleton, eyes, heart and blood vessels, nervous system, skin, and lungs. While Marfan is known to afflict more than 1 in 5,000 people, often individuals with long arms, fingers and toes, Hyman's diagnosis had gone undetected. The examining doctor found a three-week-old blood clot near her deadly aortic tear that suggested an earlier rip had already begun healing when the fatal rupture occurred in the same area.

Upon the realization that Hyman had a healthy heart, but suffered from an undetected genetic disease, two of her seven remaining siblings went to a Marfan symposium where they were convinced to get tested for the syndrome. The test results of Flo's brother came back positive and he underwent open-heart surgery to correct the disorder, almost certainly saving his life. Flo Hyman had managed to advocate for the well-being of others even after she passed on.

In 1987, National Girls and Women in Sports Day was established to remember Flo Hyman for her "athletic achievements as well as her philanthropic work to assure equality for women's sports."3 While the day has grown to recognize more current sports achievements and draw attention to the continued struggle of gender equality in sports, Flo Hyman is remembered for her positive influence on American civil rights in general and women's volleyball in particular. This Olympic star still shines bright, just from a greater distance now.


1 Biography of Flo Hyman, "Flo Hyman," Wikipedia.org, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flo_Hyman, (May 31, 2008, accessed June 18, 2008).

2 George Vecsey, "Sports of The Times; Remembering Flo Hyman," New York Times, February 5, 1988.

3 Elizabeth M. Verner, "Seeking Women Donors for National Girls and Women in Sports Day," The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (September 1, 1998). 


Sports of The Times; Remembering Flo Hyman

Courtesy of http://www.nytimes.com/1988/02/05/sports/sports-of-the-times-remembering-flo-hyman.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm and by GEORGE VECSEY

Published: February 05, 1988

THERE is only one thing wrong about the Flo Hyman Award: it came to be named for the Old Lady of volleyball much too soon.

She was one of the most charismatic athletes this country ever produced, rail thin and tall, with a smile that energized an arena.

But she died from Marfan syndrome during a match at the age of 31, two years ago, and her name was memorialized on an award - and her memory has helped extend the lives of other people, including her brother.

The Flo Hyman Award, given by Major League Volleyball to the female athlete who ''embodies the spirit and dignity'' of the late volleyball star, was presented to Jackie Joyner-Kersee yesterday in Washington during National Women in Sports Day, organized by the Women's Sports Foundation. Last year the first Flo Hyman award went to Martina Navratilova.

Yesterday, famous athletes like Billie Jean King, Pam Shriver, Zina Garrison, Carol Mann and Joyner-Kersee visited the capital to lobby for women's sports, while women held awareness programs in many states. Senator Bob Packwood, Republican of Oregon, announced the award to Joyner-Kersee in the morning and President Reagan presented it to her during a ceremony at the White House.

'Flo was a leader on and off the court, trying to help the future generations,'' Joyner-Kersee said in an interview. ''I only met her once, when my high school team went to watch the national team. She asked me if I wanted to play volleyball.''

Joyner-Kersee stuck with basketball and track and field, and is doing fine. Her world-record performances in the long jump and the heptathlon are the best lobby women's sports could ever have, just as Flo Hyman's exuberance and maturity gave women's volleyball a big-time appearance.

HYMAN was 6 feet 5 inches tall and originally self-conscious about her height. But her family and friends convinced her that her height was a blessing.

Nobody knew that her angular frame contained signs of Marfan syndrome, a condition just beginning to be recognized in thousands of Americans - often taller people with long arms, long fingers, oddly shaped chest bones.

Marfan is an inherited disorder of connective tissue that affects bones and ligaments, eyes, the heart and blood system, and the lungs. Flo Hyman became America's best-known volleyball player with a faulty aorta, but she did not know it.

''We never heard of it,'' said Suzanne Jett, her sister and the oldest of eight children - ''seven, now,'' Jett added softly.

The family lived in Inglewood, not far from the California beach towns of Redondo, Manhattan and Hermosa, where mostly sun-baked blond people frolicked on sandy volleyball courts in the 60's. Basketball was for blacks. Volleyball, even with Wilt Chamberlain as its champion, was mostly for whites.

''Florie was six feet tall in elementary school,'' Jett recalled, using the nickname that only family members could use. ''She was such a big, young, powerful girl. I took her to the beach with me, and we used to play in the two-man tournaments. She joined a youth team that went to Russia. After that, volleyball was her sport, not basketball.''

Attracted to volleyball, with its teamwork and its finesse, its power and its grace, Hyman was an all-American at the University of Houston, and then joined a national team that was eventually sequestered in southern California. Arie Selinger, the hard-driving Polish-Israeli-American coach, had to persuade her she really did want to bash her bony frame into the hard floor, over and over again, to retrieve a wayward volleyball.

''I've had a lot of fights with the floor,'' she said with a whooping laugh.

The Americans were primed to make a run for the gold medal in 1980, but the Carter Administration's boycott of the Summer Games in Moscow postponed or wrecked dreams for hundreds of athletes. Most of the women stayed together for the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, but in the gold-medal match, it was Ping Lang and her Chinese teammates who won the gold, not Flo Hyman and her teammates, who had waited so long.

''The family was up in the stands, crying,'' Suzanne Jett recalled. ''But Florie came by and waved. You could see her smile. She was happy. She had reached her goal. She had played for a gold medal. I thought to myself, 'If she is happy, why am I crying?' ''

Selinger was forced out after the Summer Games and Hyman went to play in Japan, looking to coach over there.

''Florie had a lot of doors opening for her,'' her oldest sister said. ''Broadcasting. Acting. Coaching. But she would come home and lobby for more money for women's sports. She felt this country doesn't give women's sports as much as other countries do. She tried to make things better. But she also nursed her relationship with the Japanese.

''She got friendly with American baseball players and their wives, she got to know the owner of an American nightclub, she loved the Japanese,'' said Suzanne Jett, who edits television commercials in Los Angeles. ''I visited her and we went out dancing. I was supposed to go over again.''

ON Jan. 24, 1986, during a normal rest on the bench, Flo Hyman fell over dead. Her sister came over to claim her body. The family eventually learned from a pathologist in California that Hyman had died of something called Marfan syndrome. The family has learned more about the ailment from the National Marfan Foundation, run by Priscilla Ciccariello in Port Washington, L.I.

''My brother and I went to a Marfan symposium run by Johns Hopkins in Baltimore,'' Jett said. ''People kept saying, 'Are you sure you don't have it?' because I'm tall and thin, like Florie, and have unusually long arms. I took the test and did not have the internal manifestations, but my brother, Michael, had open-heart surgery two weeks later. He's all right now. He just had his first child. It's something to watch in the baby.''

Giving an annual award to star athletes like Jackie Joyner-Kersee is one way of remembering Flo Hyman. The awareness of a menacing condition is another legacy of an American champion who could reassure her own family after the loss of a gold medal.


Flo Hyman
Thu, 1954-07-29

Courtesy of http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/dignity-spirit-and-commitment-excellence-flo-hyman and the African American Registry. 

This date marks the birth of Flo Hyman in 1954. She was an African American athlete specializing in volleyball.

Flo Hyman was born in Inglewood, CA and graduated from Morningside High School. She enrolled at the University of Houston working on a degree in mathematics and physical education. It was here that she became a three-time all-American in volleyball, culminating as America’s top athlete in 1976. At six feet five inches, Hyman left school in 1978 to train for world competition in Colorado.

She starred for the United States at the World Volleyball Championships that year and in 1982. At the 1981 World Cup in Tokyo, she was named to the six-member all World Cup team. Considered by many as the best female volleyball player in the world, Hyman led America to a silver medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Following the Los Angeles games, Hyman and three of her American teammates began playing professionally in Japan.

On January 24, 1986, during a routine substitution in a Japanese league game, she collapsed and died. An autopsy later found the cause to be Marfan’s syndrome, a congenital heart disorder. In recognition of her accomplishments, she was inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame the same year. In 1987, the Woman’s Sports Foundation established the Flo Hyman Award, given annually as part of the National Girls and Women in Sports Day to the female athlete who most exemplifies the “dignity, spirit, and commitment to excellence” with which Hyman played the game of volleyball.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association
700 W. Washington Street
P.O. Box 6222
Indianapolis, Indiana 46206-6222


Top 40 Female Athletes: Flo Hyman

Courtesy of http://espn.go.com/blog/high-school/girl/post/_/id/1971/40-greatest-female-athletes-flo-hyman and ESPN the Magazine

In our increasingly data-driven sports world, a revolution must be quantified. And the numbers and awards say Flo Hyman was revolutionary in American volleyball history.

First, there were the firsts: She was the first female to earn a volleyball scholarship at the University of Houston; a member of the first U.S. Olympic team of any kind to train year-round; the first U.S woman named to an All-World Cup team (in 1981); and captain of the first U.S. women's volleyball team to earn an Olympic medal, with silver at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. She was also the first African-American woman to do all of these things.

But accolades alone can't do Hyman justice. For one thing, the 1980 U.S. boycott of the Summer Olympics in Moscow denied her the opportunity for more glory. And she had to be seen to be truly appreciated. She created a new aesthetic in women's volleyball, with her long, locomotive approach to attacks at the net, her powerful frame rising high above, and her glorious hair, a perfectly picked-out halo that turned her officially listed height of 6-foot-5 into ... who knows? "Probably 6-10 with that big ol' afro," says Hyman's longtime U.S. teammate, Laurel Iversen.

All of that was a theatrical, intimidating prelude to Hyman's devastating hitting. Legend has it she could spike the ball 110 mph. She hit so hard that the ball often had funky spin, making it appear to rise for an opponent ready to dig low -- the stuff of nightmares. At the same time, she was fiendishly accurate. "She could drill some angles you just couldn't even imagine," Iversen recalls.

As fierce as Hyman was on the court, she was friendly and endearing off it, with a smile that beamed and a personality that beckoned. She charmed members of Congress while testifying as an advocate for Title IX. Fans in Russia and Japan embraced her. On a team filled with pioneering standouts -- including Rita Buck-Crockett, one of the best pure athletes ever to play the game, and Debbie Green-Vargas, considered the best U.S. women's setter ever -- Hyman was the face. And yet she was forever giving credit to her teammates and to the sport. It's no coincidence that volleyball exploded on the high school level during Hyman's star turn, or that beach volleyball blossomed not long after she tragically left the stage.

When Hyman died in 1986, at the age of 31, during a match for her Japanese professional club, she instantly became a legend, as well as the symbol for a cause. An autopsy revealed she died of a heart problem associated with Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that weakens the body's connective tissue. Hyman's popularity raised awareness of Marfan's, which led to advances in treatment.

And so in death as in life, Flora Jean Hyman made everyone pay attention.



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