If it’s Sunday and you’re a bona fide volleyball player, then Reston has a game for you. Not just any game, but a weekly coed game that recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.
According to long-time Restonian Philip Lilienthal, founder and president of Global Camps Africa, Hickory Volleyball was started at the end of October 1967 by himself and five other “guys”—Peter Smith, Karl Ingebritsen, Arvil Daniels, Sandy Ross, and Larry Lammers—who all lived in Reston’s Lake Anne area. Among those who soon joined that original group was John Dowd (now attorney for Donald Trump) and a host of others, including grown children, who throughout the years have “drifted in and out of the game.”
The only continuing player from that original group, Lilienthal—wearing a tee shirt with the motto “Not Just a Game, a Way of Life”—recalled that initially they played on a multi-purpose, asphalt court in Reston’s Hickory Cluster community that was demolished last year. From the start, they played every Sunday morning, “sometimes shoveling snow, sometimes wearing rain jackets.”
Some 20 years ago, the game moved to a sand court in Lake Anne Park, a few streets away from Reston’s Lake Anne Village Center, off North Shore Dive. On a recent rainy Sunday, Lilienthal, 77, took a break from a lively game that despite the weather managed to field full, six-versus-six teams with even more players rotating in and out.
Chatting about Hickory Volleyball’s origins, which now boasts 26 regular signed-up members, he recalled that, soon after he and his family moved to the community, Reston founder Robert E. Simon Jr., his father-in-law, suggested using the then under-utilized Hickory Cluster court for volleyball.
Formerly the director of his family-owned Camp Winnebago in Maine, Lilienthal, also an attorney, was always actively involved in all types of sports, including regular volleyball games at the camp. Acknowledging that indoor play, because of weather, is easier, the longevity of the outdoor Reston group, he suggested, is based in large part not only on enjoyment of a competitive game but also on its informal sociability.
“It attracts people who don’t see each other normally,” he said, noting that games start at about 10 a.m., last until approximately 1 p.m., after which players often go for lunch at the nearby Café Montmartre restaurant. “It’s another fun way to enhance a relationship,” he suggested, “another piece of that relationship pie. … I think it’s a nice alternative activity for people who want a low-key, not formal way to play.”
For longtime Northern Virginian and avid Hickory Volleyball player, Roger Barlow, 62, unless the weather is incredibly adverse, on Sunday mornings he “knows where I’ll be.” Even a recent move from the Reston-Herndon area to Maryland has not changed that habit.
Part of Hickory play since 1982, Barlow, who works in mapping at the Reston-based U.S. Geological Survey, recalled that he initially got involved because of “mentor” Dean Shumway and “never looked back.” A legendary volleyball player and head coach, among Shumway’s accomplishments are serving as head coach of George Mason University’s women’s volleyball team for six years and coaching a number of title-winning men’s and women’s USA Volleyball and Northern Virginia Volleyball Association teams. A former board member of the Chesapeake Region Volleyball Association, Shumway also was president of both the Fairfax and Reston volleyball clubs.
A “passionate” volleyballer, Barlow, who plays year-round inside and out, played USA Volleyball last year and, in June, played in the National Senior Games. He has also played volleyball on four continents, even Antarctica. “It’s a game,” he noted, “that travels with you.”
A “setter,” which he explained is volleyball’s “quarterback of offense,” Barlow recalled that at the start of playing in Reston, it was just a chance to play. Now, as importantly, it is the people and the camaraderie, too. He said, “I’m an active person. I have a skill set that that other people respect.”
Barlow further enthused, “Whatever it takes, I’m coming to Reston. If I can squeeze in another 10 years, I’ll play. … Some people have their Sunday services; we have our Sunday services.”
Frank Fico, one of Hickory Volleyball’s younger regular players at 54, said he was introduced to the group in the 1980s by a colleague at the Defense Mapping Agency and fellow Restonian, the late Dick Wetherbee and his son. The now retired Fico, who has lived in Reston for more than three decades, noted that he started seriously playing volleyball in college. Not a player of team sports as an only child, since starting to play, it has become his favorite sport.
Looking for an “open, pick-up game,” Reston’s Sunday morning play was a “good fit” for his initially irregular schedule. “I’m a regular when I’m around,” he said, and he now tries hard to arrange his schedule so he’s free to play. For example, he managed to switch the responsibility of counting Sunday’s collection at Reston’s St. Thomas a Becket Catholic Church, with the permission of other counters, from Sundays to Mondays.
In the group’s earlier days, the required level of play was “pretty stringent,” Fico recalled, conceding “we’ve gotten mellower.” He made clear, however, “We don’t have time for teaching [new players], and though former players can be a little rusty, they need to know how to play.”
And whereas younger people are “more than welcome” to play, he cautioned, “even though we’re older, we can hold our own … and willing to take them on.”
Equally avid and experienced volleyball players, Larry Spieler and his wife Joyce Kwiatkowski-Spieler found not only a great sport but romance, too—not in Reston but in Alexandria where they also play. Married 38 years, they recalled that it must be true love because when they first met, Kwiatkowski-Spieler had just gotten braces for her teeth and the attendant headgear but that didn’t keep her away from a good volleyball game or Spieler from asking her out. She joked, “It was love at first serve.”
A “family thing,” Spieler noted that, besides his wife, his sister, brother-in-law and son all play. His son, in fact, now plays in the Premier Volleyball League at James Madison University. The couple, who live in Sterling, play in a variety places locally and in Maryland.
A computer scientist for the Defense Information Systems Agency, Spieler, 62, who joined the group before his wife, also originally learned of Hickory Volleyball from Dean Shumway as well as Dick Wetherbee. He, like others, was attracted not only by the Reston group’s social aspects but also its level of play, which he described as “skilled and scrappy.” Additionally, quipping, “We play like old men but get a lot of balls up.”
Playing volleyball since she was 13 as a member of a church youth group, Kwiatkowski-Spieler, 61, a dental hygienist, initially heard about the group via word-of-mouth. “I like playing coed,” she said. “You get higher levels of competition and tougher games.” A bond in their long marriage, her husband, she added, “respects me as a player and my want to play with the big guys.”
Like her husband, she also loves the sociability of the Reston group, the variety of people she meets and plays with as well as the group’s longevity. “There’s no group like them, no group together this long” she enthused. “It’s like a family. You go through marriages and babies; it gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling. But they don’t go easy on you. They play as hard on me as a woman as anyone else on the court.”
Spieler, who had surgery this year for a ripped quadriceps muscle, said while it may sometimes slow him down, it will not stop him from playing. “I’m going to play as long as I can physically,” he vowed. “I’ll have whatever surgery I need along the way.”
Kwiatkowski-Spieler, who like her husband has suffered a number of injuries over the years, nonetheless, wants to play as long as possible, too, suggesting perhaps until she is 80 or even older. “Volleyball’s been very good to me,” she said. “Really opened my world … just makes life livelier.”