April 8, 2005
Tallahassee, Fla. Former Florida State volleyball standout Denise Erb sat down with Seminoles.com to discuss the beginning of volleyball at Florida State. Erb recalls her first memories of FSU, the environment in Tallahassee and how important it is to continue supporting women’s athletics across the country.
How did you get to FSU?
I graduated from high school in 1969 and went to Manatee Community College to play on the volleyball team. Many of my friends played club ball before the NCAA and Title IX. We played in the Division of Girls and Women’s in Sports. I was actually on an athletic scholarship at MCC which was rare then because there were so few sports scholarships. I had to play five sports including basketball, volleyball and softball. Originally, I was going to go to USF but we were at a tournament at Stetson where Lucy McDaniel was the coach. There were a few strong junior college programs – the best was Miami-Dade Junior College South. FSU was playing Dade South in the stands while I was watching. I remember all of the Garnet and Gold and hearing the tom-tom drum playing along chanting for Florida State. `F-L-O-R-I-D-A S-T-A-T-E, Florida State! Florida State! Florida State!’ was probably what made me come to school in Tallahassee. I thought that was so cool so I decided to attend. I was so impressed with the fan support and the cheering – no other school had anyone doing that. We wanted to be a part of that team. It’s probably not the best reason to choose a school but it worked out for the best in the end.
I started in the Fall of 1971 at FSU. There were club teams and college teams for the past few years. The first year, Linda Warren, a student working on her doctorate degree was our coach, as part of her contract. The heart of our team and most of the Olympic volleyball players came from Dade South because they were a volleyball powerhouse. Everyone played in the tournament no matter what. We played in Montgomery Gym while the men played in Tully.
What is your earliest memory of Florida State?
It had to be seeing them play while I was at Manatee Community College. I drove up to FSU from Sarasota to see about financial aid. I slept in my car in the parking lot the night before so I could go to the financial aid office. I went through on scholarship because my family could not afford school. Part of my scholarship required me to work in an office on campus. I worked for Dr. Smith, who taught anatomy and physiology, in the Physiology Department. I worked in the lab and took data. Another thing I remember was the campus being so beautiful. The brick and hills were like a slice of the Ivy League in the South. To me, it felt like I was really going to college. Tallahassee had oak trees and dogwoods and I fell in love. I thought it was the prettiest place in the South.
You saw a few coaching changes in your years at FSU. What was that like?
Dr. Wells brought in Dr. Jones in the fall of 1972 who led our team to nationals. It was the first time we had a dedicated coach. We were so excited because she was focused on our team and making the program better. She was so nurturing that we thought we went to heaven. During that period, the women’s athletic programs just got better and better.
When Dr. Jones took over the program, we immediately noticed that she had a lot experience with volleyball. We had a lot of respect for her and everyone wanted to play for her. The junior colleges were only two years and the University of Florida had not developed their women’s programs. USF was a brand new school, Jacksonville was private and very expensive and Stetson was good but FSU had better educational programs. Florida State was the place for women in sports. If you were a physical education major, Florida State was one of the most respected programs in the country. All of the physical education textbooks were written by FSU professors and the program was larger than most state schools. Plus the coaches were phenomenal. Dr. Jones really put our program on the map.
Dr. Jones had a lot of strategies and was very intense. This caused us to push each other because we wanted to be the best. She had experience in bigger programs and she knew the game inside and out and she was a good personnel manager. We worked hard – we ran bleachers and drilled during practice. The game was getting more sophisticated then and new concepts of the game were constantly arising. We even went as far to practice against the men’s team.
We had really dedicated coaches and instructors who encourage and wanted you to be successful. Dr. Wells would have had the whole team out to her house for dinner. When we went to a tournament, a coach there might have the whole team over to eat. Literally everything has changed.
What was the environment like at FSU and around the country during the early 1970s?
Compared to what student-athletes have now, we didn’t have anything. All women’s teams had the same uniforms – sometimes you wore them for a couple of different sports. They went from team to team. I remember looking back at pictures and I think the track team wore the ones we had. We always had 12 on a team. One year, we only had 11 uniforms, so the 12th girl did not have a uniform, she just wore shorts and a t-shirts.
We drove an FSU station wagon, which held a dozen people and luggage, to tournaments across the state. We would get in the car with bag lunches for long trips. We drove to Miami almost every weekend for tournaments. We couldn’t afford too many hotel rooms so we flipped coins for beds. Once, one of our players hurt her back so we all curled up and sacrificed our space so she could stretch out in the car and get healthy.
Was the schedule similar to the current season today?
We started playing volleyball in August. We did not have a schedule like they do now. We just went to tournaments and played a number of teams. We played Friday nights, all day Saturday and then the championships on Sunday. Almost every weekend you were playing round robin, sometimes double elimination.
The seasons (fall and winter) began to overlap in November with districts, regionals and nationals in the beginning of February. We started basketball in December. If we played two sports, we practiced six nights per week from 6 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. The first two hours were volleyball and then the next two were basketball, when the seasons overlapped. We had Saturday nights off but for the most part, we were playing games over the weekend. That was normal back then.
Florida State had the first big tournament of the year – the FSU Invite. It was a big deal because we were able to play in Tully Gym. The women that were in the physical education program were trained to be referees. The Jacksonville Invitational and Miami Dade Junior College South Tournament were also big events. We won in Jacksonville in 1972 which was a huge deal because teams from around the state traveled to play in the tournament. USF, Stetson and Florida Southern also held tournaments.
What did you do outside of volleyball?
Everyone went to bars on Tennessee Street. There was a place on Tennessee with this wood front that everyone would go to Friday night after classes and practice. Sometimes we would just meet at someone’s apartment and we would cook and hang out. Most weekends, we were in tournaments. We would also go watch other sports or go to someone’s parent’s house to visit.
As a group, we did a lot of stuff together. Microwaves came out during that time. I remember we went over the apartment of the first person on our team who got a microwave and cooked everything in the refrigerator. Another first, we experienced was the opening of Disney World in Orlando, Fla., in 1972.
How big is it that you, as a graduate of not only the school but the athletics program, continue supporting FSU?
I think it is huge. Anyone who played in the early 1970s is doing supporting the program because we know what a struggle it was and we want to see them be successful. It was great once they decided to organize support groups for women’s sports. Lucy McDaniel was a big part of that effort. I’m happy to support the programs. I want them to succeed and be great. Women’s sports are getting funding and scholarships which is only fair. Many cannot afford to go to college so if sports gives them the opportunity, then I’m happy to help.
What has changed the most since you played volleyball?
Everything has changed. I go to a football game and volleyball games on the weekends and just marvel at the improvements. The women have a real facility, not just any court. They get national attention and do a wonderful job of attracting some of the top recruits. Literally everything has changed. You get promotions at matches. As a member of NetSet, I get mailed a poster every year. Back then, the picture is the only one in two years I remember taking. There were very few dollars spent on women’s athletics. We didn’t get meal money.
The game has transformed from a truly amateur club atmosphere to a real NCAA sports environment all from Title IX. That would never have happened if not for that legislation. We didn’t have trainers. If you got hurt, you helped each other. It’s the difference between night and day. Everyone played for the love of the sport. You threw yourself on the ground because you were good at it.
You did it for the love of the game because at that time no one was getting any glory for it. It was wonderful. We lived to play volleyball. I could not wait for practice. I would be in the gym for an hour before practice working on drills. I used to spike the ball with both hands against the wall. I loved doing it.