Flora "Flo" Hyman - USA Volleyball Olympian/Activist - El Camino College
Long before the likes of Karch Kiraly and others made beach volleyball a popular spectator sport, the indoor version of the sport had its own heroes. No star loomed larger over the game than Flora "Flo" Hyman, a towering presence on the United States National Team and internationally for more than a decade before her untimely death in 1986 at age 31.
After opening eyes throughout the volleyball world during her freshman year at El Camino College in 1972-73, the native of Inglewood, Calif. became the first woman ever awarded an athletic scholarship at the University of Houston, where she put together a hall of fame career that resulted in a spot with Team USA by 1974 and being named the NCAA's top female volleyball player in 1977.
For a decade, the 6-foot-5-inch outside hitter was the superstar of her sport. The U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow denied her an opportunity at a gold medal at her peak, but at the 1981 World Cup she was selected the tournament’s outstanding player. She remained with the National Team through the 1984 Olympics, where as the team's oldest player, she led her squad to a silver medal in her native Los Angeles.
Hyman was known as a fierce competitor on the court. As she put it in an interview with George Vecsey of the New York Times in 1983, "Pushing yourself over the barrier becomes a habit ... If you want to win the war, you’ve got to pay the price."
Hyman played professionally in Japan for several years, never reaping the rewards of celebrity and riches that dominant athletes in many other sports realize today. She collapsed near the end of a match in Matsue City in late January 1986 and passed away that evening from what was later announced as complications resulting from Marfan syndrome, a genetic heart condition that is treatable if discovered early enough.
She was inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame in 1988 and named by USA Volleyball as the Most Valuable Player for the 15-year period of 1978-2002. She was also the first woman admitted to the University of Houston’s Hall of Honor in 1998, and she is an inductee in both the El Camino College and California Community College Sports Halls of Fame.
Hyman declined a portion of her scholarship at Houston so that other female athletes might benefit, and she spoke out often throughout her career on behalf of women's sports. Hyman joined Coretta Scott-King, Geraldine Ferraro and Sally Ride in fighting for the Civil Rights Restoration Act. She also testified on Capitol Hill to ask the federal government to strengthen Title IX, the important 1972 legislation that prohibits sex discrimination by athletic programs at universities that receive federal funding.
In 1987, the Women’s Sports Foundation established the Flo Hyman Award, which is annually presented to the female athlete who best exemplified over the course of her career Hyman’s "dignity, spirit, and commitment to excellence."
- By Paul Lanning, Foundation for California Community Colleges.
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