Sept. 19, 2013
by Roman Petrowski
Houston Athletics Communications
As you sit in the stands at the University of Houston Athletics/Alumni Center this weekend and take in the Cougars' first home game you may recognize the name attached to the front of the tournament. You may have heard a tale or two about the legend of Flo Hyman. A select few may even remember watching the great player attack the net in Cougar Scarlet and White in the mid-1970s.
"If I had to pick one word that best describes Flo," former volleyball coach Ruth Nelson said during Hyman's Houston Hall of Honor induction speech, "the word would have to be inspirational."
To be true to oneself is the ultimate test in life. To have the courage and sensitivity to follow your hidden dreams and stand tall against the odds that are bound to fall in your path. Life is too short and precious to be dealt with in any other fashion
It has been said that Flo Hyman revolutionized the sport of volleyball. A charismatic queen off the court and a graceful giant capable of spiking a ball 110 mph, Hyman used her influence to thrust the sport to the popularity level it is today.
"Flo's incredible achievements and the quality of her life were very significant to the movement of sports opportunities for young women," LPGA Hall of Famer and former president of the Women's Sports Foundation Carol Mann once said.
Hyman was a basketball and track and field star in high school, and didn't pick up volleyball competitively until she was 17 years old. By that time she was 6-5 and was the first female to be awarded an athletic scholarship to play for the Cougars in 1974, despite having only played for a short period.
"Everyone deserved an opportunity to succeed," Nelson said. "She was offered a full scholarship in 1974 and she chose to share the monies with her teammates. How many players would do that today?"
No matter what sport Hyman played, being a teammate came natural to her. Hyman had a personality that may have been even greater than her ability to pound the "Flying Clutchman" as her vicious spike was so often called.
"Flo was a very talented young lady," former Director of Women's Athletics Sue Garrison said, "and she spent more time helping others in volleyball practice than helping herself."
Hyman went on to lead the Cougars to an impressive 112-25 record in her three years at Houston while being recognized as an AIAW All-American in each of the three seasons. After her junior year, Hyman left Houston for a once in a lifetime opportunity.
"You can go to school when you're 60," Hyman once said. "You're only young once. You can only do this once."
Hyman left to train with the United States Olympic volleyball squad that had never medaled in Olympic competition and had failed to even qualify for the 1972 and 1976 Olympic games. In just four years, Hyman helped transform the U.S. team into an Olympic qualifier and the favorites to win the gold in 1980.
As history books would tell you, the U.S. boycotted the Moscow games in 1980, but in 1984 Hyman helped lead the Americans to an Olympic Silver Medal in front of her family and friends in her hometown of Los Angeles, Calif.
Following an international career that would see Hyman take home numerous awards including the 1981 World Games Best Hitter award, she moved to Japan to continue her career professionally.
It was in Japan that tragedy struck. In a January 1986 match with her squad, Team Daiei, Hyman collapsed on the court and passed away at the age of 31 from a disease known as Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder of the connective tissue that can affect the skeleton, eyes, heart and blood vessels.
In her extremely too short yet illustrious life, Hyman did many great things, on and off the court. As an advocate for Title IX, the most famous push for gender equality in sports, she revolutionized the sport she loved and opened doors for many female athletes that would follow in her footsteps.
"Flo was more than a great athlete who pioneered in her sport and achieved so many firsts," the United States Volleyball Association said in a statement following Hyman's death. "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."
So as you enjoy the Flo Hyman Collegiate Cup this weekend, remember the amazing woman who made it all possible. Remember the woman who was once conscious of her 6-5 stature, but whose mother told her to honor that height and embrace it. Remember the legend that stood tall and made her dream and the dreams of countless children to follow come true.
"To be true to oneself is the ultimate test in life. To have the courage and sensitivity to follow your hidden dreams and stand tall against the odds that are bound to fall in your path," Hyman once said. "Life is too short and precious to be dealt with in any other fashion."