HOLYOKE Six international volleyball stars were welcomed as the newest members of the Volleyball Hall of Fame (VHF) during last Thursday's 20th enshrinement.
The inductees include Eugenio George of Cuba, Poland's Stanislaw Gosciniak, Ron Lang of the United States, Brazil's Bernard Rajzman, Konstanin Reva of the former USSR, and Peru's Cecilia Tait.
Of the six inductees, four were available for comment during a press conference at the Yankee Pedlar Inn in Holyoke.
Gosciniak, a former setter for Poland's Men's National Volleyball Team, said he was
"very surprised," when he learned he was going to be inducted into the Hall.
"It is a great honor, and brings me great satisfaction," he said. "For all the honors I have received in my life, this one really tops them all."
Gosciniak, who said he has competed in 218 international matches from 1965 until 1974, was part of the first Polish team to medal at the European Championships, and also brought his team to the Olympic in Mexico City and Munich.
In 1974, after leading Poland to the gold medal at the World Championships in Mexico, Gosciniak was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) as well as the Polish Athlete of the Year.
He was the first setter in history to be given the MVP honor.
"Most of the time it is the hitters who receive that award," he explained. "It is difficult to get the award as a setter. I am a very lucky person."
Gosciniak, who began his coaching career in 1975, is currently the head coach of Poland's men's national team.
Over the years, Gosciniak said he has witnessed a great deal of change in the sport, as the players have become taller and more athletic.
"Volleyball is now a much more powerful sport," he said.
Gosciniak's visit to Massachusetts last week marked the volleyball greats first time in the state, as well as his first visit to New England.
Prior to attending the induction ceremony, Gosciniak spent a few days traveling New England, and said that what he has liked most about New England is "the crab cakes and clam chowder."
Peru's Cecilia Tait, who was dubbed "Zurda de Orro, Golden Lefty," at age 16 for her performance against the Soviet team, said through her interpreter and fianc Tyler Bridges, that she feels "honored,
to be inducted into the Hall.
She said that when she received the letter notifying her of the honor, she didn't understand it because it was written in English.
Bridges said he had to translate the letter for her, and when he first started reading it, he "became very emotional."
"She immediately got very emotional as well," Bridges said. "And that night, she didn't sleep at all."
She said that in Peru, "just to win a medal is a big deal," and she she "just couldn't believe," that she was going to be inducted into the Hall.
Tait, who played professionally in Japan, Italy and Brazil, was was captain of the 1988 Peru Olympic team at age 26 and was chosen to play for the World All-Star team that then played the gold medal winning Soviet Union.
After retiring from the sport in 1998, Tait founded "Talent Seeker," a non-profit organization in Lima that teaches volleyball to disadvantaged children.
Tait is also a member of Congress in Peru.
Bernard Rajzman of Brazil, who is not only the first Brazilian, but the first Latino player to be inducted into the Hall, said that the honor marks "a wonderful moment for me."
"I am so proud to be here in the city where the story of volleyball began," Rajzman said.
He was also recently named the best player of the 20th century.
Beginning his volleyball career at the age of 17, Rajzman has won seven South American titles, a Pan American Games title in 1983, silver medal at the 1982 World Championship and the 1984 Olympic Games and a bronze medal at the 1981 World Cup .
He said that he is "so proud," to be among other inductees who have served as his "idols," throughout the years.
"Throughout my life I have tried to be like many of these people and now I am here with them," he said.
He said that with the honor comes "great responsibility," and that it is "fantastic," to have his hard work be recognized.
"It is just so great to know that all of your hard work will be remembered," he said.
His wife, Carmen Rajzman, said that her husband was part of a group of players referred to as the "silver generation," because their winning of the silver medal in the 1982 World Championships served as a way to popularize the sport in Brazil.
"They were really the ones who got people playing and knowing more about the sport," she said.
Accepting the award on behalf of Konstantin Reva of Cuba, was his granddaughter, Eugenia Gurova, and his daughter, Elena Smolina.
Reva was member of the USSR squads that dominated men's international volleyball in the 1940s and early 1950s.
Reva's team went undefeated in the first two World Championships in 1949 in Prague and 1952 in Moscow.
In December of 2000, Reva received a 20th Century Award from from the FIVB for his performance and contribution to the sport.
"It's so nice to know that his achievements are appreciated by so many people," Gurova said.
Gurova said that if her grandfather had been alive to accept the honor, he would probably have been "very proud but very surprised."
"He was a very modest man," she said. "He would have been pleased, but he would never have expected this."
Ron Lang of the USA said that although he is "honored," to be inducted, "It's not about the honor of being selected, but more about the journey itself."
Lang, who began his career as a beach volleyball player, was a member of the first USA Men's Olympic Volleyball Team in 1964, and was also a long-time standout player at the USA Men's Open Volleyball Championships.
From 1958 to 1967, Lang earned nine First-Team All-American selections, one Second-Team All-America honor, three Open National Championships and was an eight-time Open National runner-up.
Lang said that his interest in volleyball began during his junior year of high school, when he used to visit the beaches of southern California with his family.
"There were so many jelly fish that you couldn't really go in the water that summer," he explained. "So i saw some guys bouncing around the ball at on the beach and I thought it looked fun so I tried it."
This nonchalant encounter with the sport spawned a career that includes an All-Time Great Male Player award in 1982, as well as the honor of being a member of the USVBA's 75th Anniversary Men's 1953-1977 All-Eara team in 2003.
In what Lang called " a stroke of luck," he ended up pairing up with Gene Selznik, VHF Class of 1988 and later Ron Von Hagen (VHF Class of 1992) to form partnerships that led to countless victories.
WIth Selznick, for example, he earned over 20 tournament championships. With Hagen, he won 28 events.
Eugenio George of Cuba, who was not able to attend the induction, led the Cuban team to three consecutive Olympic gold medals, three World Championship crowns, and four straight World Cup titles, three Grand Champions Cup gold medals and 12 NORCECA Continental Championships.
George has been named the Best Women's Team Volleyball coach of the 20th Century by the FIVB.