BASN Focus On History: Volleyball Pioneer Flo Hyman

By Tony McClean
Updated: January 17, 2005
Flo Hyman
flo hyman

BRISTOL, CT.—Gone too soon. It’s a story we’ve heard all too much in the general world and the sports world. For every Walter Payton, there’s an Ernie Davis who was taken away from us way too soon. Today’s history focuses on a great African-American athlete who left us way too soon. At the time of her death, Flo Hyman was arguably the best volleyball player in the world.

Born on July 29, 1954 from Inglewood, California, Flora Hyman graduated from Morningside High School, then enrolled at the University of Houston working on a degree in mathematics and physical education. It was here that she became a three-time all-American in volleyball culminating as America’s top athlete in 1976. Standing 6-feet-5, Hyman left school in 1978 to train for world competition in Colorado.

Hyman played a key role in establishing the USA as a world power in volleyball. Her team qualified for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, but because of the United States’ decision to boycott the event, the team did not compete

She starred for the United States at the World Volleyball Championships that year and in 1982. At the 1981 World Cup in Tokyo, she was named to the six-member all World Cup team. Considered by many as the best female volleyball player in the world, Hyman led America to a silver medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Hyman was honored as the Best Hitter at the 1981 World Cup competition and was selected to the All-World Cup Team, which was considered to be the top six female players in the world.

Famous for her strength and power, Hyman also earned the nickname “Clutchman.” Her large frame and quick arm swing produced a 110mph spike.

Following the Los Angeles games, Hyman, and three of her American teammates began playing professionally in Japan. On January 24, 1986 during a routine substitution in a Japanese league game, she collapsed and died.

An autopsy later found the cause to be Marfan’s syndrome, a congenial heart disorder. In recognition of her accomplishments, she was inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame the same year.

In 1987, the Woman’s Sports Foundation established the Flo Hyman Award, given annually as part of the National Girls and Women in Sports Day to the female athlete who most exemplifies the “dignity, spirit, and commitment to excellence” with which Hyman played the game of volleyball.

Past recipients include tennis star Martina Navratilova (1987), gymnast Mary Lou Retton (1995), speed skater Bonnie Blair (1999), WNBA All-Star Lisa Leslie (2001) and softball player Dot Richardson (2002).

Following her untimely death, the United States Volleyball Association renamed their All-Time Great Female Player Award to the USVBA Flo Hyman All-Time Great Female Player Award. In 2002, Hyman was inducted into the Coilorado Springs Hall of Famer as well.

Olympic teammate Rita Crockett once said, “There has been nobody even to compare to her. Even to this day I’ve never seen anyone better.” At the time of her death, U.S. Olympic Committee official George D. Miller said, “She was the finest female volleyball player in the world.” Arie Selinger, national team coach and 1984 Olympic coach called her “The Goddess of Volleyball.”

Unforgettable for her ability on the court, she was an ideal role model for women and girls all over the world and is recognized as one of the most influential female athletes of all time. Crockett perhaps summed it up best when she said, “She was the perfect role model. She was an ideal person, not just in sports, but in everything.”

NOTE: The African-American Registry contributed to this story.