International Volleyball Association (1975-1978)
Born: 1975 – IVA founding franchise.
Folded: Postseason 1978.
Arena: El Paso County Coliseum
Owner: Wayne Vandenburg, et al.
The El Paso-Juarez Sol were a rollicking, co-ed pro volleyball squad that drew crowds to the El Paso Civic Center with a combination of international Olympic stars and cornball promotions during the late 1970’s. The Sol were original members of the International Volleyball Association, a start-up operation in 1975 with five teams clustered in the Western U.S. The Sol were the only team located outside of Southern California during that first season, though the league eventually grew to include clubs in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Washington. IVA volleyball featured two women and four men on the court at all times and the league didn’t take itself too seriously. Sol games featured a roving P.A. announcer named Paul “The Mouth” Strelzin who galloped around the arena on a stick horse.
The league managed to attract top volleyball talent from around the globe. The Sol’s first year roster included American player-coach Mary Jo Peppler, the top female in the league and 70’s-famous from her appearances on ABC’s Superstars competition, and hirsute Brazilian hitter-blocker Lino De Melo Gama of Brazil, better known as “The Caveman”. But the Sol finished the 1975 schedule in last place and Peppler departed.
The Sol’s finest season came in 1977. The team lured Ed Skorek, the 34-year old hitter-blocker from Poland’s gold medal-winning team at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, to El Paso. The 6′ 5″ Pole dominated the league all summer long, even earning the relatively unknown Sol a big write-up in Sports Illustrated. But a late season injury caused Skorek to miss the championship series. Without the league’s best player, the Sol lost to the Orange County Stars in the 1977 IVA finals.
Skorek decided not to return to the United States in 1978 and the Sol returned to middling status in the league. The team ran out of money during the 1978 season and the Sol closed up shop following the season. The IVA continued on for two more years, shutting down midway through its sixth season in the summer of 1980.
“The sole Pole for the Sol“, Joe Jares, Sports Illustated, August 22, 1977