Before 2014, Leeds RGA Volleyball was a club that ‘just did what it needed to do’.
They were formed way back in 1973 and had produced some talented players.
However, a lack of funds and free time for members made it seem near on impossible for the club to progress to the next level.
Then, one phone call changed it all. It started when educator Sir John Townsley set up a secondary school in Leeds in September 2014, which he named Ruth Gorse Academy, dedicated to the memory of a former teacher and former Leeds Volleyball Club player, who had died tragically at the age of 35 following a five-year battle with cancer.
But while her light had sadly diminished, a new light was about to shine, as the Ruth Gorse Academy and Leeds Volleyball Club officially formed a partnership dedicated to Ruth’s memory and provided the game changer for the now-named Leeds RGA Volleyball Club.
Since then, club chair Penny Speers, along with her husband and club founder, Dave, have been busy to say the least, with the partnership giving them a much-improved and thriving junior section that, before the partnership, had been simply unattainable.
What’s really nice about the club is we have loads of different nationalities playing for us – Spanish, Italians, Iraqis, Afghans, you name it – because, even though it’s not as popular here, volleyball’s still one of the biggest sports in the world.Penny Speers
“It’s lucky really that my husband and I have retired,” said Penny, “because we do a lot with the volleyball club now.
“We’ve gone from having five teams just before we moved to now running a junior club, four men’s teams, four women’s teams and also a boys’ team and a girls’ team starting this year. So we’ve done quite a lot in the last two years really.
“(Before the partnership) It was an adults only club really. We wanted juniors but we just couldn’t find a venue that was cost effective really and we just didn’t have the funds and everyone worked as well so no- one really had any time.
“But moving to the school has allowed us to expand and pick up so many new players. And what’s really nice about the club is we have loads of different nationalities playing for us – Spanish, Italians, Iraqis, Afghans, you name it, because, even though it’s not as popular here, volleyball’s still one of the biggest sports in the world.”
Certainly the sport in England has seen better days, which Penny and Dave both experienced first hand, with both of them competing for England’s national team in the 1980s, earning 25 and 111 caps, respectively.
Volleyball is a game that is very close to the couple’s hearts, with their vital experience at the top level of the sport giving them the desire to steer the club to an even bigger future.
“We’re giving back now really,” said Penny. “We’ve had a lot out of the sport. I was training nearly every day while teaching at the same time.
“I’d train about four times a week, play at weekends and also go to the gym at lunch time to do jump training, but that was back when you used to get a lunch hour!
“But I was very lucky; we didn’t get paid to play but we had all our travel and kit expenses paid and I also went all over Europe to places like Sweden, Israel and Luxemburg for competitions, so it was great and I was very lucky.”
Despite the sport seeing better days in England, at Leeds all eyes are on the future, with the focus set on expanding their still new junior section with a small but dedicated team of volunteers and their vital connection with Ruth Gorse Academy.
The circumstances leading to the partnership may have been tragic but the huge progress of Leeds RGA Volleyball Club ensures that Ruth Gorse’s memory will live on in the best possible way.