A volleyball coach celebrated for his innovation and the legacy he built among his players was recognized by the provincial sport association last weekend.
John Campbell was formally inducted into the BC Volleyball Hall of Fame on Feb. 3.
“It’s quite an honour,” said Campbell ahead of the induction.“They had to do it fairly soon, because if they waited much longer, I won’t be alive.”
Now decades removed from Campbell’s incredible seven-consecutive seasons coaching the gold-medal winning team at B.C. provincials, he says he doesn’t play volleyball much these days. Maybe the odd bump or set on vacation on a sandy court, but with arthritic hands and a lacklustre jump, he’s no longer as physically involved in the sport.
But back in 1968, Campbell was very much a student of the sport.
He travelled down to Mexico City that year and watched the silver medal-winning Japanese team work their fast game on the court. Adapting the team’s strategy for his high school athletes, the Revelstoke senior boy’s volleyball team went on to play seven storied seasons as the team to beat in B.C. They dominated provincially and even won two consecutive bronze medals at the Canadian Junior Men’s Championships.
“I won’t see it broken,” says Campbell, now 75, of the B.C. provincials record.
More than 30 former athletes were expected to be at Campbell’s induction on the weekend. He called it a bit of a reunion.
“His impact on volleyball is legendary and his record speaks for itself,” says Jerry Story, a former Revelstoke player. “The long-term effect he had on the students and players… he coached has transcended volleyball more than any outside smash or quick 51.
“He instilled lifelong principles in all the students and athletes who cared to listen.”
Campbell remembers the fun the teams would have together, training five days a week.
“I provided them with an opportunity to develop their skills. That’s what my job was. Lots of time in the gym developing good skills,” he says. “I made sure that they were physically tough and had very good endurance and I made sure that they were mentally strong.”
Former Revelstoke player Keith Gallicano, who was inducted into the BC Volleyball Hall of Fame in 2017, recalls the skill development during practices.
“John ensured all his players developed the basic skills, not just spiking and were in top condition, with innovative training methods, including filling 10 gallon pails with cement and car tires with sand for weight training,” he said.
Many of Campbell’s former players are now leaders within the sport, quite a few retired themselves.
As Al Scott, a colleague of Campbell’s wrote in a letter supporting his nomination to the hall of fame, Campbell taught his players “lifetime values”.
“To this day those players still refer to their coach as ‘Mr. Campbell’, his first name is rarely used,” wrote Scott.
Scott was the head coach of Team BC from 1974-79 (they won gold at the Canada Games in ‘75 and ‘79). That ‘75 team included three Revelstoke grads: Gary Warner, John Markwart and Chris Jenkins.
“Those players always spoke about what a tremendous influence John Campbell had on their lives outside of volleyball,” wrote Scott.
On the court, Campbell continued to be a presence.
“Without any doubt, John Campbell personally raised the bar to unprecedented levels of how volleyball should be played with state of the art systems of play,” wrote Scott. “His players became known by name by aspiring volleyball players around the province seeking to mirror their skill and performance.
“Importantly, John Campbell was a model of elite coaches sharing their knowledge of the game with aspiring coaches.”
Campbell always tried to make practices fun.
“The biggest thing that I tried to do is even make hard practices fun,” he said. “We always had fun.”
Part of what made Revelstoke a volleyball power in those years was that Campbell coached those kids from Grade 9 through graduation. He would bring some Grade 9 and 10 athletes to provincials just for the experience.
“They would probably never see the floor, but I wanted them to see what happened, to get ready,” he says.
The Revelstoke team was such a superpower that even when they fell on hard times, they still won.
Scott remembers one year at the BCVA Junior Championships, Campbell’s team showed up with only six players. They lost another to injury.
“The team played with five able-bodied players, with the casted player starting each service in rotational order and then stepping off the court,” wrote Scott. “And yes, Revelstoke still went on to win the championship.”
Campbell should have seven gold medals from that historic run, but he doesn’t.
As was his habit to bring extra players to provincials, there weren’t enough medals to go around and he would forgo his own medal so that a student could wear it around their neck. Campbell says it never bothered him, he has all the memories.
Campbell retired from coaching senior boys volleyball while he was still on top. He moved on to the administrative side of the school system. When he did return to teaching, he coached the Grade 8 boys team.
“I wasn’t going to get heavily involved again,” he says.
And with his induction into the BC Volleyball Hall of Fame, Campbell’s legacy will continue to live on.