When Keith Gallicano was in grade eight, he went to try out for the gymnastics team. At the same time of the try outs, John Campbell was recruiting players for the Revelstoke Secondary School volleyball team.
Volleyball was a fringe sport at RSS at the time and not yet the core part of the school’s sports program that it would become during and after Campbell’s time as coach.
“Since my dad was a gymnast, I went out for the gymnastics portion, not the volleyball,” Gallicano told me. “John needed some kind of way to get the people out because volleyball was not a sport back then and there were no coaches.”
Since they were side-by-side, Gallicano gave volleyball a try. He quickly discovered he had a knack as a setter, the player who delivers the ball to the big hitters.
In grade nine, he was brought on to the senior boys volleyball team and helping them to four consecutive B.C. high school championships. He went on to win provincial and national titles at the university, club and masters levels, and played professionally.
Next Saturday, Feb. 4, Gallicano will be recognized by being inducted into the B.C. Volleyball Hall of Fame. He’s part of only the third class of inductees and the fourth athlete to be inducted.
“Keith is a person who truly embraces his passion for the game of volleyball and what it means to be an ‘athlete for life,'” says his bio with Volleyball BC. “He has achieved excellence at every level in volleyball (high school, university, senior national, professional, and masters) and there is no doubt that Keith’s volleyball career is far from over. He is an outstanding setter and a defiant defender with precision and game smarts.”
Gallicano was part of RSS’ golden age of volleyball, when the school won seven consecutive provincial high school championships from 1969 to 1975 under the leadership of coach Campbell. He was a two-time first team provincial all star and MVP of the 1971 championships.
Photo: Keith Gallicano goes up for a block during the BC high school championships in Revelstoke in 1971. ~ Photo contributed
When Gallicano was in grade 12, Revelstoke played host to the championships and the team didn’t lose a set.
“We were so dominant in that tournament that in the final against Winfield, John Campbell called a timeout and asked us to not play so well because we needed to show the crowd what the game was like because we were basically just destroying teams,” he said. “John wasn’t focused on winning, because he knew we were going to win. He was more focused on educating the crowd to the game and how it’s played. He wanted us to play accordingly and slow the game down.
“It was about showing the crowd we had a great program, and hopefully it will continue.”
After graduating from RSS, Gallicano went on to play volleyball at the University of British Columbia, where he studied chemistry. His team won a national championship in 1976 and finished second in 1977. All the while he worked his way to earning a PhD in chemistry.
“For me volleyball was an outlet. When I was going through my university days, there was a lot of pressure in university to do well,” he said. “If school was getting demanding, I always had volleyball to fall back on, and if my volleyball was struggling I always had school and the friends I worked with in the chemistry lab.
“Going through my university years I wasn’t pressured as I could have been because I had school or volleyball as a good outlet to succeed.”
After university, Gallicano played club volleyball. He had dreams of making the Canadian national team and playing at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal but his diminutive stature – he’s only 5’7″ – kept him from making the team.
He won a national championship at the club level with the BCO Senior Men’s Club in 1978 and in 1979 he was recruited to play for the Salt Lake City Stingers in North America’s first professional volleyball league. The league, which featured basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, wound up folding after that season.
Gallicano kept playing volleyball throughout the 80s and 90s. He succeeded in beach and grass competitions and won a silver with his Ottawa team at the 1993 Canadian Open Championships.
His success has come despite being only 5’7″ – short in a sport dominated by tall people.
“There’s a saying that Bill Neville (the former Canadian national team coach) told me when I was playing pro. He said, ‘For every inch under 6’4″, you have to be that many inches smarter.’ I jokingly tell people that’s why I have a PhD, because I have to be that much smarter,” said Gallicano. “Part of it was being really vigilant on the court. You have to be that much better being height deprived. You couldn’t have any bad games. I had a lot of determination on the court to do well and to keep playing.”
Gallicano now lives in California, where he is the vice-president for scientific affairs at Novum Pharmaceutical Research Services, a company that provides research service to the pharmaceutical industry.
And he still plays volleyball at a high level. In April, he will represent Canada at the World Masters Games in New Zealand.
He said it’s an honour to be inducted into the BC Volleyball Hall of Fame, especially as one of the first athletes. “I know there are a lot of good and worthy candidates for this hall of fame.”