For seven straight years, Revelstoke dominated the B.C. high school volleyball world. Now some former players are trying to get coach John Campbell into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame.
When a high school sports team wins two or three provincials championships in a row, it could be that they were fortunate to have a strong group of athletes that came through at one.
For a school to win four titles in a row it requires a strong system and a consistent stream of athletes. Usually that’s reserved for the big city schools with thousands of students to choose from.
When a school in a small town wins seven provincial titles in a row – well that’s pretty much unheard of.
Unheard of, except for the Revelstoke Secondary School volleyball teams of the late-sixties and early-seventies, who dominated high school volleyball, competed against university teams and beat junior men’s teams from across the country.
Now, a push is on to get John Campbell, the team’s coach, in to the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame.
“I don’t know of a lot of high school coaches that can say they won seven provincial championships in any sport, let alone in a row, and left a legacy like he left,” said Ken Olynyk, one of the stars of the team and now the athletic director at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops and a director on the Hall’s board of trustees.
Campbell grew up in Kelowna and attended the University of Victoria, where he received his bachelor of education. There, he was more into basketball than volleyball, he said.
In 1966 he came to Revelstoke to teach math, volunteered to coach the volleyball team and quickly fell in love with the game.
“It’s a wonderful game,” he said. “It’s a non-contact sport, it promotes a great deal of sportsmanship and co-operation among players.”
Once he started coaching, he went full bore into it. In 1968, he travelled to Mexico City to take in the volleyball tournament at the summer Olympics. There, he paid special attention to the Japanese team, who used a fast-moving game and wound up winning silver.
“They were changing the style of volleyball. I watched them and watched them and watched them and figured out what they were doing and how and why they were doing it,” he said.
He also attended a volleyball camp in Winfield, B.C., that attracted high level coaches from around the world. Then, he took what he learned and brought it to the RSS volleyball team.
To play this faster game he realized that his players needed to master ball control. They practiced daily.
“He understood the importance of the fundamentals of the game,” said Mike Cummings, a star on several of those teams who later played at the University of British Columbia. “You couldn’t run any of the complex offences that he had designed without being able to handle the ball properly. Lots of other teams knew how the offences worked but really didn’t have the skills to pull them off. John worked tirelessly to get players to be able to do that. His time commitment was just astounding.”
Armed with this new style and new skills, the team went to the provincial championships, where they finished runner-up to a powerful Mission team. In the finals, they were the first team to take a game from Mission all year.
“They completely outplayed Mission and had them disorganized to the point of falling over each other,” wrote the Revelstoke Review.
The next year, the team returned to the finals and got their revenge, toppling Mission 15-9 and 15-11 to take the victory. Cummings was named the MVP and Olynyk and Morris Hulyd were named to the first all star team.
In 1970, they used what the Review described as a “devastating multiple offence” to beat John Oliver School to win the provincial title for the second year in a row. Olynyk was named the MVP.
That year they also went to the Canadian Junior Championships in Calgary. As a team of high schoolers competing against men up to the age of 21, they came in third. They would go to the nationals four times, always placing near the top.
The team kept winning at the provincial championships – five more times for a total of seven in a row. It’s a feat that no other high school team has matched in any sport. The MVP each year was from Revelstoke and 22 out of 42 first team all stars were from Revelstoke. In 1971, five out of six first team all stars were from Revelstoke and two players made the second all star team.
“It was a domination that will never, ever be seen in any sport and it was all because of [Campbell] and all the players know that,” said Mike McGowan, who played on the rival Winfield team and is organizing a re-union of players and coaches that used to attend the Winfield volleyball camp.
Campbell’s success as a coach was due to his dedication to kids of all ages, said former player Tom Camozzi. He said Campbell would hold camps at the elementary schools and work just as hard with the grade eights as with the senior boys team that was winning championships. “He put in hours and hours of time,” said Camozzi.
Campbell said it was always his goal to have fun and have his players be “the best they could be.”
“If that took us to the podium – great,” he said. “If it didn’t, that still would have been fine would me.”
Olynyk, who would go on to coach the University of Toronto basketball team, said Campbell was great at getting the best out of people and he wouldn’t yell and belittle his players.
“His traits as a person really came through in his coaching,” Olynyk said. “He was very dedicated, very supportive, very positive and just looked for the best in people. I think that’s one of the reasons that we as young athletes really worked hard to get better.”
After the team’s final win in the 1974-75 school year, Campbell moved on from coaching to become an elementary school principal. He eventually got his Master’s degree and became a special services teacher. He limited his coaching to helping out the grade eights, he said.
He never contemplated becoming a career volleyball coach, though he believes he probably could have, and said he has no regrets in not doing so.
Campbell’s legacy at Revelstoke Secondary School lives on. Every year the school hands out the John Campbell Award for outstanding dedication in extra curricular activities
When asked if he realized the significance of his accomplishments at the time, he said he didn’t really think of it. As he said, if someone would have told him it couldn’t be done, he would have believed him and not done it.
“Nobody told me it couldn’t be done.”