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Dolfi Kalm wins volleyball gold medals

Even at age 74, volleyball dreams do come true
Dolfi Kalm looks at the 2015 USA Volleyball Men’s 70-and-over National Championship All-Tournament Team plaque he won in May along with a gold championship medal for volleyball. “This is my biggest, my best year,” he said. “That’s my treasure. It’s something that you wish for in life.” (photo by Chris Umscheid)

LISBON– The year 2015 has been a year of dreams coming true for Lisbon’s Dolfi Kalm, formerly of Solon. Kalm won a pair of gold medals in national volleyball championships in Detroit and Minneapolis. However, the road to those championships was far longer than the several hours spent driving the highways.
A native of Maynard, Kalm started his teaching career in Atkinson, Neb., moved to Oklahoma to teach and moved back to Nebraska for three years, ahead of taking a principal position in Gladbrook.
Kalm and his wife Barb moved to Solon in 1977, where he took a job selling Wausau Homes and, for a brief time, insurance.
“Barb came home one day and said, ‘there’s a PE and biology opening in Solon,” Kalm said.
He initially wasn’t going to apply, figuring a few hundred other teachers would be in the running.
“But then I thought, well, nothing to lose, and I gave it a try.”
Kalm made the interview cut, then waited a couple of weeks before getting the call offering him the position.
“I got the job, (teaching) biology, health classes, PE… I wasn’t even looking for a coaching spot, but they offered me softball and I said, ‘You bet!’”
In addition, Kalm coached junior high basketball.
In the early 1980s, Ron Herdliska, Athletic Director and Principal at the time, assigned Kalm as the head junior high volleyball coach.
“I said, ‘scuse me? Because I didn’t know anything about volleyball other than having it in PE classes,” said Kalm.
Kalm had played softball, baseball and basketball since grade school, but volleyball was a new, untapped universe for him. Kalm told Herdliska he’d have to go somewhere to learn the game, which led to attending clinics for new coaches. Kalm quickly learned not only the fundamentals of the game, but just how much there was to learn.
Even his first clinic participation form proved challenging.
“One of the clinicians was from Louisiana State University, and he asked ‘Would you run a 4-2, a 4-2 International, a 5-1 or a 6-2?” Kalm said, referring to variations of player positioning. “I thought it was a trick question or something. I put, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’” The next day the instructor looked through the forms and said, “Dolfi, we’ve got a lot of work to do with you.”
From that humbling beginning, Kalm moved to the head of the varsity program a few years later, a spot he held for 13 years before retiring in 2000 and taking a hiatus mandated through the state’s Iowa Public Employee Retirement System (IPERS).
“I could’ve gone back and been an assistant, but IPERS said I had to stay out for four months. That was June, July, August, September… so the season was half-over, that would not work,” he said.
Instead, he took an assistant position at Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant.
“That was really, really cool,” he said.
Kalm found a different style of player at the collegiate level.
“The kids were there because of scholarships… not because your friend is going out so you’ll go out, too. If you didn’t toe the line, you were out, so it was really, really fun,” said Kalm.
It turned out to be the most successful season for the Tigers, who came within one game of the lead-up to a national tournament appearance.
“So, we did really well,” Kalm said. “I have a lot of fond memories of those four or five months.”
Kalm returned to Solon as the ninth grade coach and assistant to the varsity program until 2014 when he retired, again, at the end of a Class 3A State Championship season.
As a player, Kalm himself benefited greatly from his experience in Iowa City and Ely club play.
“We suffered for about a year or so and then all of a sudden, we just got on a roll (and won several trophies). We just kept getting better and better. Once in awhile we’d come in second– nothing wrong with that– out of eight teams, 10 teams.”
After his 2000 retirement as a coach, Kalm talked with a friend in Indiana who was playing on national teams, an idea that intrigued him. After a few referrals Kalm spoke with an organizer in Detroit.
The organizer was skeptical at first.
“He asked me if I’d played volleyball, and I said I’d had my share. He said, ‘It always happens, these guys tell me they’re good,’” Kalm said. “I told him, ‘I’m not telling you I’m good, I’m just saying I’ve gotten to know volleyball, I’ve been coaching for 13 years and I’m kind of getting the hang of it.’”
That led to an invitation to attend a tryout session in Michigan.
“So I went down there and he said, ‘Yeah, I think we can use you.’”
The team was based in New Jersey and comprised players from across the country, including New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri and Kalm from Iowa.
The first tournament he played in turned out to be the cream of the crop, he said.
“That’s your best players… so, I played middle and I thought I did pretty well.” The team placed within the upper half of the 10-team field.
Later, he played with a team out of Minneapolis that also had players from around the country.
“When I found out I could play with the boys, (my goal) was to win a gold (medal),” Kalm said. “I’d never won a gold before.”
His dream first came true at the Senior Games in Louisville, Ky. in 2008.
“I was pretty tickled,” he said. “We even got a picture in the Press-Citizen; I was biting the gold medal.”
The taste of victory and a goal achieved inspired Kalm to work even harder. Unfortunately, a string of teams that didn’t fare well followed his early victory.
His fortunes turned around about 18 months ago, with a call from an organizer in California. It turned out Kalm had made a name for himself– a bit of a double-edged sword, according to wife Barb.
“Once your name gets out there, then you kind of have to prove yourself,” she said. “And as you get older, the field (of players) gets smaller and smaller, and then it’s just an accident of good health whether you can continue to play.”
Barb, a nurse, noted some players have actually dropped onto the floor in full cardiac arrest and died, “…right on the volleyball court, which is where they wanted it to happen,” she said.
Kalm earned two more gold medals this year, in May and July. In May, he competed in Detroit at the National USA Volleyball Championship in the 70s age bracket.
“It’s an open (competition), so anybody can just show up and play,” he said, although he was part of a team originating in California. Players in the tournament played in numerous age brackets ranging from the 20s to the 80s. Some of the 80-year-old players were on a 70s team Kalm faced.
“They were good; somebody like that, you have to admire them. They really played well. They were very competitive and gave us all we wanted.” He reminisced about a team he met several years ago made up of very elderly gentlemen,
“Their team name was ‘Comatose,’ and they looked it,” he joked.
But one team member stood out in his memory. “He was 6-8, shoe size about 20, and he could hardly move but I tell you, when they got the ball to him… there was nothing you could do about it.”
Detroit was very good to him and his team, he said. “I finally got my one wish.”
In addition to the gold championship medal, Kalm was also named to the All Tournament Team, a dream-come-true and another goal achieved.
“When they called my name for All Tournament, I just looked at Barb really quick and it was like… damn, I finally did it,” he said.
In July, he won another gold in Minneapolis at the National Senior Games with many of the same players from his Detroit team. After that, he won a silver medal in St. George, Utah.
“It was kind of ironic,” he recalled. “The team we beat in Detroit (for the championship) beat us.”
“This is my biggest, my best year,” he said, looking at the All Tournament Team plaque. “That’s my treasure. It’s something that you wish for in life and my only other thing along with that would be to make MVP (Most Valuable Player).”
Kalm acknowledged the many good volleyball players who compete at the same level.
“I’m just tickled to be a part of this,” he said. “I’m flattered. It’s what I wished for… and what I got. What better?”