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ND Volleyball: Brown and teammates meet again

Meaghan Veselik | Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Thirty years may be a long time ago for most people, but when Irish coach Debbie Brown gets back together with her teammates from the 1980 Olympic team, it doesn’t feel like a day has passed.

Brown and six other living players from that Olympic team — a team that never had the chance to compete for the gold medal they were favored to win — were honored last Wednesday in Colorado Springs, the city they trained in and lived in, when they were inducted into the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame.

The team was favored to win the gold medal, but they never competed in those Moscow games because of an American boycott instituted by President Jimmy Carter during the height of the Cold War.

Returning to the training grounds where so much happened with Brown and her teammates made the recognition and the reunion even more special.

“It’s a lot of fun, any time I can get together with my teammates from the 1980 Olympic team, we always have a good time,” Brown said. “It was probably a little extra special just being in Colorado Springs because that’s where we trained and where we went through so much; [it was] where we trained and lived and spent so much time there. It was nice to be back and it was really nice to be recognized by the city.”

Not only was the weekend special but it was also an honor for Brown and her teammates to be reminded of how much the city cared for them and had taken them under its wings.

The 1980 Olympic team was the first group to train in Colorado Springs, and none of the players had any connections to the city or were from the state of Colorado. It was all an unknown for them, but the team quickly gained local support after they arrived.

“We didn’t know how it was going to be,” Brown said. “None of us had friends or family or anything there, and it was really special the way the city of Colorado Springs just really adopted us. From the minute we were there, whenever we would play there, we would play to sell-out crowds. A lot of people in the community just really took an active interest. They would have us over for home-cooked meals, just took us in, as if we were from there and had lived there all along.”

Returning to her old training grounds with her teammates reminded Brown of the bonds that had been formed and that continue to play a role in her life today.

“We stay in touch quite a bit. Obviously not with every single person on the team but the bonds that we formed when we played together and for the amount of time we played together are still very strong and these are still my best friends,” she said.

Although they never competed on the Olympic stage, a “bittersweet thing” for Brown, she said her team has been recognized by a number of organizations for their role in putting USA Volleyball on the map.

“It’s a great honor to be recognized and always a good time when we can get together with our teammates because, like I said, there’s such a close bond and because we are such good friends, so it was pretty special to come together and be able to celebrate something like that,” Brown said. “And 30 years after, it’s kind of crazy to think of that, but it was 30 years ago and it’s kind of special to know that those bonds are as strong as ever.”

When asked if it felt like 30 years had passed by since she and her teammates were training in Colorado Springs, Brown laughed and said, “No, not at all. That seems crazy.”

None of the 1980 Olympic coaching staff were able to attend the event because of current coaching duties and scheduling. The team’s head coach, Dr. Arie Selinger, is currently coaching the Israeli National Team, while the two assistant coaches are coaching in Japan and at St. John’s University. Four of Brown’s teammates have also gone on to become college head coaches.

The bonds Brown forged with her teammates that continue to play an active role in her life were an important part of her experience as a player, and an important aspect that she encourages the Irish players she coaches to consider.

“I have shared with them and I have told them that it’s possible that their teammates will turn out to be the best friends that they’ll have in life, and it’s just a matter or cultivating friendships and relationships,” Brown said. “I’m sure that for the Notre Dame players, for the 20 years that

I’ve been able to coach, I know that some of them, for a fact, are still best friends with their teammates.”

While Brown and her teammates were together during such a tumultuous time where they didn’t know what their Olympic fate would be, she said that she tries to pass on the importance of her daily experiences with her teammates to her players.

“There’s something about the things you go through as a teammate, and all the practices and hard work, just the experiences that you have that create a special bond,” she said. “I have shared with them that if they have the opportunity to develop the friendship like I have with my teammates, it makes it all worthwhile for sure.”

Brown and the Irish are currently 15-9 overall and 8-3 in the Big East in her 20th season at Notre Dame.