VENTURA COUNTY HALL OF FAME : Coronation of Sorts for Ferguson : Election to Hall a Crowning Achievement for Energetic Leader of Highly Successful Boys' and Girls' Volleyball Programs at Royal

TIMES STAFF WRITER

On a hot June afternoon, months before the next volleyball season, Bob Ferguson is still churning at top speed.

The Royal High coach is sprinting from one side of the school gym to the other, barking instructions to the boys' team to his left and the girls' team to his right. With spikes and sets and digs and blocks all around him, Ferguson--conducting two practices at once--is enjoying a volleyball double dip.

Double duty and overtime are business as usual for Ferguson, one of the few people in the area who coach boys' and girls' teams. For 11 years he has coached the Royal girls, winning four Marmonte League titles, the 1989 Southern Section 4-A Division championship and posting a 149-50 record. And that's the struggling program.

The boys have become one of Southern California's top programs since Ferguson started the team from scratch in 1988. In eight seasons, Royal has played in six Southern Section championship matches, winning four and recording a remarkable 27-4 playoff record as part of Ferguson's overall 149-13 mark.

Those numbers look spotty compared to the team's league mark. Royal has been virtually perfect, winning all but one of 90 league matches. During that span, Royal's record in games is 269-3.

No wonder Ferguson has been elected to the Ventura County Hall of Fame. And when the 47-year-old coach is inducted at Saturday's ceremony in Ventura, he will still be running at full speed. He will rise at dawn and coach the girls' team in the L.A. Summer Games at Cal State Dominguez Hills before dashing across Southern California for the Hall of Fame ceremony.

And he's double-dipping again. The next morning, he'll head back to Dominguez Hills to coach the boys.

"What can I tell you? I love volleyball," he said, obviously delighting in the pace of his life. "I still have the fire and desire for the game."

Ferguson's fire sometimes burns out of control. Even his wife, Sandy, who also is his assistant coach, calls him a workaholic.

"He loves his job and takes pride in what he does," she said. "He knocks himself out and spends hours and hours on the job."

Ferguson's work ethic is one of the key reasons for Royal's success, according to Athletic Director Terry Dobbins, but also a cause for worry.

"Bob is a superstar," Dobbins said. "His 27-4 record in the playoffs, playing against the best of the best, is phenomenal. He puts in tremendous amounts of time and lives volleyball. At times we fear for his health."

That's why Dobbins always keeps a candy bar on hand. Ferguson has diabetes. Admittedly, he often is so focused on his teams he forgets his body. Sometimes the results are frightening.

Sandy awoke one Saturday night in 1989 because Bob was writhing in bed, suffering from an insulin reaction. Because she could not wake him, Sandy summoned paramedics.

"He was flailing around and it was awful," Sandy said.

Ferguson failed to eat properly that day because he worked till late at night at the school gym with his son, Travis, partitioning a meeting room for the volleyball program.

Every day is a volleyball workday for Ferguson. If he's not doing something involved with volleyball, he must be asleep.

"When I go over to his house, I've never see him do anything that wasn't related to volleyball," sophomore setter John Baxter said. "That's why he's an awesome coach. He loves the game and wants us [to play] it perfect."

Ferguson has followed anything but the perfect career path. A basketball player at Pepperdine--he played against the UCLA freshmen and Lew Alcindor--Ferguson graduated with a degree in history in 1969 and took his first job as athletic director for the San Fernando Valley Christian School. One problem: The school had no athletic teams.

So Ferguson worked feverishly--what else?--establishing a sports program for the 65 boys and girls in the high school. He coached a flag football team, started the basketball program and in the spring coached baseball and track at the same time.

"We would run our track people on the weekends and our baseball uniforms were blue jeans and a T-shirt," he said.

The basketball team played in a converted supermarket at the corner of 79th and Vermont in South Central Los Angeles near the old Pepperdine campus. The gym--tabbed the green monster--had a cement floor and low ceilings.

"It was a great place to use the press," he said. "We would trap players in the corner and they'd throw the ball into the low ceiling trying to get the ball up court. We never lost in the old green monster."

All those victories and $7,000 a year. What a deal. Six years later, he was hired at a junior high in Simi Valley and the former beach volleyball player got a substantial pay raise and his first volleyball team. The Sinaloa Junior High girls promptly went 0-6.

"I told the girls, 'Do you want to win or learn to play the game?' " he said. "They decided to learn the game. The next year we were 12-0."

Three years later, he was the Royal junior varsity girls' coach and was hired in 1984 as head coach. Sandy, whom he met a quarter-century ago playing beach volleyball, came with the package. Royal volleyball always has been a Ferguson family affair.

Son Travis and daughter Heidi seemingly grew up on the Royal bench. Travis, the Southern Section 3-A Division player of the year in 1992, earned a scholarship to UC San Diego and played at Cal State Northridge last season before deciding to give up the sport.

Heidi is a junior setter who is expected to join a growing legion of former Highlanders who have played in college.

Under Ferguson, 13 girls have played at Division I or II schools, and eight boys have earned college scholarships. This year Kevin Hambly was an All-American at Brigham Young.

Did someone say young? Not Ferguson. He's crowding 50 and wonders whether he can continue the pace. He will take an especially hard look at his career after Heidi's senior season. The smart money at Royal says he'll stay.

"He's very honored by the Hall of Fame award and very proud of what he has done," Sandy said. "Not much has changed from when he first started. He still works so hard. He's had the [diabetes] attacks but they're not job-connected. He just doesn't monitor himself enough.

"In fact, I would worry about him if he stopped working."

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