Black History Month (Flo Hyman)

As I’ve said in some other posts, I dislike Black History Month because it segregates one aspect of American history rather than show how it should be woven directly into American history.  Black history matters in November and April, September and March, too.  (Ditto for ‘Hispanic’ ‘women’s’ or whatever other adjective you like…it’s all part of being American)

So over the course of the month, I’ve written some essays that address various portions of black history which deserve time in a regular curriculum.  Because it’s history and not coaching, they don’t quite get the readership they deserve.  You should check them out–I learned things writing them.

Black History Month (The Redball Express)
Black History Month (Battle of the Crater)
Black History Month (OJ Simpson)
Black History Month (To Boldly Go…)
Black History Month (Jackie Robinson wasn’t a 100% good thing)
Black History Month (Rosa Parks)
Black History Month (Living Colour)

Now, on with today’s program…

In the 21st century, we have a ton of female athletes now who are recognizable by their name.  Black athletes?  There are countless ones we recognize across sports, all thanks to guys like Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Chuck Cooper, and Willie O’Ree breaking barriers.

Someone’s gotta break the barriers though.  In volleyball, the person remembered for that the most is Flo Hyman.  Hyman was a giant of a player and way taller than almost anyone she played with or against (she was listed at 6’5).  Her volleyball accomplishments are well-known.  So is the fact that she died tragically at an early age.

But there are three things I think worth mentioning of importance that we glide over.

1 – She was the very first female athlete of any sort to receive an athletic scholarship at her college (University of Houston).  Think about that–not only do you have pressure to succeed because of skin color, but gender on top of it.  That could’ve crushed any number of people.  Not Hyman.

2 – After her death, she was autopsied and it was found she suffered from Marfan Syndrome.  If anyone tells you they knew what that was before her death, they’re probably a physician.  It was unheard of.  After her death, it was enough for many others to be checked.   Checking saved the lives of a lot of athletes ranging from Michael Phelps, the greatest Olympic swimmer ever to Michael Austin, a future NBA star who lost his career–but not his life–to Marfan Syndrome (on top of hundreds and thousands of others we’ll never hear about).  Now it is something checked for regularly with heart tests for young athletes.  It isn’t always caught, but it is far better now than in 1984.

3 – She shaped the sport she loved–not just by being a dominant hitter, but who came after.  Just as there is no Jordan without Dr. J, no LeBron with Jordan, without Hyman, do we have the Oden sisters?  Danielle Scott?  Do we have a Plummer or a Foecke?  Influential players shape those who come after and those people shape the next athletes and so on down the road.

The problem with #3…often we forget to teach the history to those who come after.  Young girls today will know Plummer, but they do not recognize “Oden” or “Nnamani” let alone Hyman.  In all things, we must do a better job connecting the dots, to remember where things start, where they are, where they will go.  In writing this, I am left wondering who Hyman’s athletic inspirations were.  Did she know who Louise Stokes and Tidye Pickett were?  Was her teenage wish to grow up to be Althea Gibson or Wilma Rudolph?  It’d be nice if Hyman lived–to be a walking, talking inspiration and link to an era too many willfully choose to forget (in terms of civil rights, etc).

If you knew Hyman, if I screwed this up–make sure to let me know.

I received this link from Ruth Nelson, one of Hyman’s coaches:  www.flohyman.com
It has more information (and thanks, Coach, for the link)

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5 thoughts on “Black History Month (Flo Hyman)

  1. I was coached by Pat Zartman and my mom Fidge Brown (Caston) back in the early 70’s in Manhattan Beach, California. Flo practiced with us and was especially close to my mom. I remember a story that Flo told my mom that she had lied about something and needed to come clean–the lie was that she was 6’5″ and not 6’4″–the laughter that followed was priceless. She had a deep, throaty laugh that I’ll always hear in my head. Flo was the most genuine individual and always made you feel special when you talked with her or spent time with her. She was incredibly naive and real at a time when the world was filled with racial issues. She was something else! DM

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  2. Love Flo Hyman! I appreciate what you say about history… I run a beach club in the summer. We are in AK, so our season is short. I feature our Alaskan greats of the past and highlight a character value associated with it. It’s my little tribute to those that helped put our sport on the map in our area…

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  3. JIM I am so happy you decided on writing about Flo and some great points.. this month and year is so impactful as it is Black History month (not sure why it is only one month..not every day), January 1986 her death, Marfan Syndrome month, Title IX anniversary, AVCA anniversary, and Women in Sports Day . THE WSF began their celebration recognizing Flo Hyman…

    It was best described by Wikipedia:
    The Flo Hyman Memorial Award was conferred annually between 1987 and 2004 by the Women’s Sports Foundation in Washington, D.C., United States, on the organization’s National Girls and Women in Sports Day to the female sportsperson, irrespective of nationality or sport contested, adjudged to have capture[d] [best]…the dignity, spirit, and commitment to excellence[1] of American indoor volleyballer Flo Hyman, an advocate for gender equality in sport and for the passage of Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988 who died suddenly and unexpectedly in January 1986.[2] The award was given with respect both to athletic performance and to charitable activism, especially in the context of [increasing] sports opportunities for all girls and women.[1].
    Not sure why they took her name off the award..which it should be reinstated..by Women’s Sports Foundation.

    Think of that the most recognized volleyball player in the world ..was not only the tallest (we were always kidding that she was 6’2 with 3 inches of hair).. and she was indeed until Tayyiba Haneef-Park made USA team . So being black playing a sport that was dominated by white.. in 60′, 70, 80, Verneda Thomas, 1964 USA Olympic team (check out tributes on this website http://www.flohyman.com) .

    2021 AVCA recognized her by leading the her history celebration with the Black History Commission

    So much history is being forgotten so please take time to read more about the early days on Flo’s website and follow her on social media

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