Volleyball commemorates its 125th anniversary

On July 7, 1896 at Springfield College the first game of volleyball was played. Initially the game was named  ‘mintonette’ by its inventor, William G. Morgan in 1895 after the invention of basketball only four years before. 

Morgan, a graduate of the Springfield College of the YMCA, designed the game to be a combination of basketball, baseball, tennis and handball.

And during a demonstration game, someone remarked to Morgan that the players seemed to be volleying the ball back and forth over the net, and perhaps ‘volleyball’ would be a more descriptive name for the sport. 

William G. Morgan

William G. Morgan — Father of Volleyball

Born in 1870 at Lockport, New York, Morgan spent his childhood years attending public school and working at his father’s boat yard on the banks of the Old Erie Canal. 

In 1891 Morgan entered Mt. Hermon Preparatory School in Northfield, Massachusetts, and it was there he developed a friendship with James A. Naismith, who was destined to be the originator of basketball. 

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Naismith was impressed with young Morgan’s athletic skills and encouraged Morgan to continue his education at the International Young Men’s Christian Association Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts (now called Springfield College). 

While at Springfield, Morgan participated on the college’s famous football team which played championship ball under the leadership of Alonzo A. Stagg, one of the ‘Grand Old Men of Football’. 

Early version

In 1894, after graduation, Morgan accepted the position of physical director of the Auburn, Maine YMCA. The following year he accepted a similar post in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and it was here the story of Volleyball began.

Invention of the game

The year was 1895 and physical director William G. Morgan had a problem. The newly created game of basketball, while popular with the kids, was proving to be too strenuous for the local businessmen. 

He needed an alternative — something these older gentlemen could play — something without too much ‘bumping’ or ‘jolting’.

It had to be physical — playing a game, after work and at lunch time, should provide exercise, but it also had to relax the participants — it couldn’t be too aggressive.

It had to be a sport, Morgan said, “with a strong athletic impulse, but no physical contact.”

It is now third most popular team sport

So, he borrowed. From basketball, he took the ball. From tennis the net. The use of hands and the ability to play off the walls and over hangs, he borrowed from handball. And, from baseball, he took the concept of innings.

He termed this new game ‘Mintonette’. And though admittedly incomplete, it proved successful enough to win an audience at the YMCA Physical Director’s Conference held in Springfield, Massachusetts the next year.

It was at this conference that Dr. Alfred Halstead, a professor at Springfield College, suggested a two-word version of its present name. ‘Volley Ball’. And it stuck.

The game of volleyball was quite a bit different from what what is being played today.  It was played on a smaller 25’x50′ court, with an unlimited number of players hitting the ball an unlimited number of times, on either side of a 6’6″ high net. 

Things tended to get a little crowded. Each game was broken up into nine innings, each inning made up of three outs, or ‘serves’. 

These serves could be helped over the net by a second player, if the server didn’t quite reach the net.

Special ball was invented

The basketball originally used proved to be a little too heavy, and the subsequent use of a basketball bladder, too soft. Morgan remedied this by contacting A.G. Spalding, a local sporting goods manufacturer who designed a special ball — a rubber bladder, encased in leather, 25″ or so in circumference. The ‘volleyball’.

Though still in its infancy, the sport was slowly developing and with the YCMA taking the reigns, Morgan was confident volleyball would continue to entertain and relax the boys down at the ‘Y’.

What he probably didn’t realize was that he had just created what would become the second most popular team sport in the world.

Worldwide growth

The physical education directors of the YMCA, encouraged particularly by two professional schools of physical education, Springfield College in Massachusetts and George Williams College in Chicago (now at Downers Grove, Illinois), adopted volleyball in all its societies throughout the United States and Canada (in 1900 Canada became the first foreign country to adopt the game.

The game in Malawi

Other countries included Elwood S. Brown in the Philippines (1910), J. Howard Crocker in China, Franklin H. Brown in Japan (1908), Dr. J.H. Gray in Burma, in China and in India, and others in Mexico and South American, European and African countries.

By 1913 the development of volleyball on the Asian continent was assured as, in that year, the game was included in the program of the first Far-Eastern Games, organized in Manila. 

For the love of it in Malawi

It should be noted that, for a long time, volleyball was played in Asia according to the ‘Brown’ rules which, among other things, used 16 players (to enable a greater participation in matches).

An indication of the growth of volleyball in the United States is given in an article published in 1916 in the Spalding Volleyball Guide and written by Robert C. Cubbon. 

In that article Cubbon estimated that the number of players had reached a total of 200,000 people subdivided in the following way: in the YMCA (boys, young men, and older men) 70,000, in the YWCA (girls and women) 50,000, in schools (boys and girls) 25,000 and in colleges (young men) 10,000.

In 1916, the YMCA managed to induce the powerful National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to publish its rules and a series of articles, contributing to the rapid growth of volleyball among young college students. 

In 1918 the number of players per team was limited to six, and in 1922 the maximum number of authorized contacts with the ball was fixed at three.

Until the early 1930s volleyball was for the most part a game of leisure and recreation, and there were only a few international activities and competitions. 

There were different rules of the game in the various parts of the world; however, national championships were played in many countries (for instance, in Eastern Europe where the level of play had reached a remarkable standard).

Volleyball thus became more of a competitive sport with high physical and technical performance.


It has seen the start of two centuries and the dawn of a new millennium. Volleyball is now one of the big five international sports, and the FIVB, with its 220 affiliated national federations, is the largest international sporting federation in the world.

Volleyball has witnessed unprecedented growth over the last decade. With the great success of world competitions such as the FIVB World Championships, the FIVB World League, the FIVB World Grand Prix, the FIVB World Cup, and the FIVB Grand Champions Cup as well as the Olympic Games, the level of participation at all levels internationally continues to grow exponentially.

The beach volleyball phenomenon also continues to amaze. The overwhelming spectator and television success of Beach Volleyball since its introduction to the Olympic Games at Atlanta 1996 and the stunning success of the FIVB Swatch World Tour and World Championships has opened up volleyball to a completely new market.