They were over 50 years old and they had a dream: They wanted to play volleyball.

These 40 or so men had a common problem, though. They knew little or nothing about volleyball. They knew the basics, little more.

"We're all novices at the game," said George Kelch, who had the great notion of starting a men's 50-and-over volleyball league. "We'rewhat you would call 'backyard volleyball players.' We all basically started learning the game from scratch."

From scratch, with considerable help from Bill Prunkl, veteran high school and collegiate volleyball referee. The men came to Prunkl last October and set before him a challenge: Teach us the game. Teach us the ways of the spike, thedink, the serve. Show us the way.

Prunkl became the commissioner and secretary of the Pasadena Senior Volleyball Association. He set to work with his students. Some were out of shape. Some were not.

"Nowadays, when you see someone that's 35, you say 'Geez, that guy is old,' " said Kelch, who is league president. "So when you finally getto be 50, you'd better start reverting back to a kid again, because if you don't, you will get old. Just about 90 percent of the guys outhere are grandfathers, and they're still out here giving it everything they've got. . . .

"We really go at it. (Most young adults) can't imagine what it's like to be 50; it's beyond their imagination. I know when I was younger, I never dreamed about being 50."

In January, after six weeks of practice, the fathers and grandfathers who would not let their youth die took to the courts for competition.

This past Tuesday evening, Spindler's Roll-Off -- Kelch's team -- collected the inaugural league's first-place trophy a week before the completion of the season. Spindler's had clinched the championship March 10 by downing Ace Hardware, 2-1, at George Fox Middle School in Pasadena.

However, while collecting the spoils, Spindler's was swept in three games, 15-11, 15-5, 15-4, by the second-place Sunsetters, who improved their record to 23-10.

"I just couldn't believe it," said a chuckling Kelch, whose team fell to 31-8 with the loss. "It was just terrible. I just don't believe how bad we were. I guess we didn't have that drive that we usually have. They looked very good out there today, and we just came out really flat."

The champs started the match as if they'd run roughshod over their opponents. They jumped outto a 5-2 lead behind the serving of Fenn Stallsmith. The Sunsetters then went on a 6-1 tear, recapturing the lead at 8-6.

Pete Peterson and Walt Gentrykeyed Spindler's to the team's last lead of the game, 11-9. The Setters then roared back with six unanswered points to close out the game and seize the momentum for the rest of the match behind Charlie Gerkin (eight kills for the match) and Chet DeVore (five service winners).

The Setters went on to close out the match with a blend of precise serving and all-court play. Other standouts from the winning squad included Paul Brunell (six service winners) and Rodger Van Horn (four service winners).

In the evening's second match,Randall Realty moved a step closer to the Sunsetters by sweeping AceHardware, 15-10, 15-7, 15-5, dropping the losers less than a game away from fifth place.

Bob Pollero, a member of the Betty and Jake'sfifth-place squad, presented the first-place trophies.

"Since George is the league president and commissioner, I didn't want to have him award the trophy to himself," Pollero said.

In addition to George Fox Middle, the PSVA also used Northeast High for its Sunday afternoon matches. Prunkl hopes the league eventually will become a part of the county Department of Recreation and Parks program. That would give it a permanent place and a shot in the arm for expansion.

"I've been talking to the people from Recreation and Parks about getting involved in the league, mostly so we would be assured a facility to play in," Prunkl said."Right now, we don't know if we can get these school gyms next year."

Other teams include Randall Realty (22-14), Ace Hardware (10-26), Betty and Jakes (12-27) and Wooden Nickel (1-14). Wooden Nickel disbanded in the middle of the season when it ran out of money.

Instead of counting each three-game match as a win or loss, each game within a match counts toward a team's final record. The league uses U.S. Volleyball Association rules, with a free substitution rule as one modification. Games are kept short, with a 17-pointlimit.

Next season, the PSVA will include a postseason playoff inlieu of crowning a regular-season champion.

The league was created as a spinoff from the 50-and-over softball league "Both the volleyball league and the softball leagues will probably grow and become more popular," Kelch said. "In fact, we drew most of the volleyball players from the softball leagues.

"While we're all pretty much beginners, I think the league is going to get better next year and the yearafter that. Of course the next year we'll all probably die (of exhaustion)."

"We're basically out here to have some fun, but when we get the juices flowing, things get really competitive out here," Pollero said. "I don't know if it's the male hormones in these guys or what, but we're all pretty competitive."

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