Michael Carlo and Timmy Welty’s Jerseys Retirement

Volleyball Hall of Fame

They hadn’t won a single game in international volleyball competition until a few weeks before they lost their lives. Timmy Welty and Michael Carlo’s first victories—and bronze medals too—came in Indianapolis during the summer of 2001. They were representing the New York City Fire Department in the World Police & Fire Games. With an average of 11,000 competitors every two years, this ten-day event among 70 nations in 65 different sports categories is second in size and scope only to the Summer Olympics.

Timmy and Michael made the supreme sacrifice at the World Trade Center along with 341 other firefighters, 60 police officers, and 2574 of the civilians they were trying to rescue. On Friday, June 20th, their fire-engine-red jerseys, with the numbers 2 and 3, were officially retired during a ceremony at the Volleyball Hall of Fame in Holyoke, Massachusetts—the birthplace of volleyball. The Hall of Fame is only a few blocks from where the first game ever was played, in 1895, at the YMCA on the corner of Appleton and High Streets. Ironically, at least to the six New York City Firefighters attending the event, the iconic YMCA building was claimed by fire, in 1943.

At the 1999 Stockholm World Police & Fire Games, the FDNY Volleyball Team lost all its games. The highlight for the team, however, was a hard-earned point late in the second game of a three game match against the Russians—the only point scored against their former Soviet counterparts, recalls Lieutenant Bill Miccio during the ceremony. “It was a euphoric moment for Michael and the whole team (Timmy hadn’t joined the lineup yet).” Bill was Michael and Timmy’s teammate and also the coach and founder of the fledgling FDNY team that year. “It’s not every day you get to play a team stacked with four former Olympians,” he adds with a chuckle. “We were firefighters pretending to be volleyball players, and they were volleyball players pretending to be firefighters.”

“I hadn’t really thought about the significance of the Volleyball Hall of Fame, its great importance to the volleyball community,” says Joe Miccio, Bill’s brother and Michael and Timmy’s teammate, “until we were standing right here in the middle of all the displays and memorabilia.” He takes a deep breath. “Anyone who has a serious interest in the game should make a trip to Holyoke, at least once,” he says as his eyes wander the room. The FDNY players mosey among the jerseys and images of the volleyball greats in their heydays, perusing their stories with occasional raised eyebrows.

They duck under the taut webbing stretched across the room—the official volleyball net used in 1992 Barcelona Olympics, with the referee’s chair still hanging from its padded poles and life-size images of Olympians leaping towards the mesh, attacking. In front of the net, the Miccio brothers stop at another Olympic display and stare at the Barcelona gold medal, which was donated by the Brazilian two-time gold medalist, Mauricio Lima. Joe looks around as if planning a heist then picks it up. Mauricio’s personal note welcomes all Hall of Fame visitors to try on his gold medal, which each firefighter happily obliges while posing for photos in their Class-A FDNY uniforms.

The firefighters move on to an exact replica, to scale, of the historic YMCA building where it all began. Even William G. Morgan’s YMCA locker (volleyball’s little-known inventor) and his gear, are on display beside it. “It’s hard to imagine what our lives would be, if not for this man,” lamented Bobby Baran, as he looks at Morgan’s locker and the large model of the long-gone YMCA. And when he stops at the new exhibitions dedicated to his former teammates—with their jerseys and photos, he says, “Volleyball is a huge part of our lives, so many friends we’ve made, from all around the world,” he adds with eyes tinting red.

The Hall’s existence should be anything but taken for granted. If not for George Mulry, the executive director, and its volunteer board of directors (with unyielding support from the Holyoke Mayor’s Office and other elected officials)—who work tirelessly generating publicity and raising funds—it would not exist. This surprised their FDNY guests, who commented on the importance for Massachusetts, America, and the international community for the world’s second most popular sport to remain memorialized in its birthplace, here in Holyoke.

In attendance at the ceremony besides its directors, other volunteers, and a healthy food spread donated by area businesses were: William “Ronnie” Collamore, an incorporator of the Hall of Fame; Donald Humason, State Senator; Aaron Vega, State Representative; Tessa Murphy-Romboletti, Holyoke Mayor’s Office; Kathleen Anderson, President of the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce; and, of course, Holyoke’s professional firefighters. The Holyoke Police Department police cruiser, which was intentionally set up by the front door, instantly grabbed the New York Firefighters’ attention because of the official department logo on its door. Its design is dominated by the phrase: BIRTHPLACE OF VOLLEYBALL—1895, curving around the edges of a bright white volleyball. Later, when each firefighter was presented with a Holyoke Police Department uniform shoulder patch, they stared as if their eyes were deceiving them. It too contained the volleyball and tell-all slogan.

The Hall of Fame coordinated a friendly tournament the next evening at Holyoke High School against the Holyoke, Springfield and Easthampton fire departments, which helped raise $400 for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. The FDNY team had a much better outing than their one-point performance against the Russians in 1999 and bested their fraternal competitors—maybe because there were no Olympians on the other side of the net this time—before they all headed to a local food establishment to celebrate with their new friends.

Bill Miccio thanked the City of Holyoke and Volleyball Hall of Fame board of directors, noting how meaningful this gesture is for Michael Carlo and Timmy Welty’s families, and their fellow firefighters in New York City.

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