Born: January 5, 1910
Died: October 28, 1992
Country: United States
Category: Male Indoor Player
James Wortham began playing volleyball at the age of fifteen at the local fire station in Waco, Texas. The Fire Chief encouraged his men to stay in shape by playing the sport, and local youths, Wortham among them, often joined in the matches. Soon after, Wortham was competing at the national level.
Wortham played in twelve National Championships. His first, during the depths of the Depression in 1930, was on the San Antonio, Texas, YMCA team, which placed fourth. That year, Wortham was named an All American. In 1931, the San Antonio team qualified to compete in the Nationals by defeating the Houston Y in the regionals. In high spirits and sponsored by the Gebhardt Chili Powder Company, Wortham and the San Antonio Y team went on to the Nationals. They created a sensation when they arrived at the train station dressed as “gay caballeros,” but they repaid their generous sponsor support by bringing home the National Championship, an achievement they repeated the following year.
After the 1932 championship, Wortham was transferred to Houston by his employer, Greyhound Bus Lines, and immediately joined the Houston YMCA team. He led the Houston team to the National Championship title in 1933, 1934, 1935 and 1936. In 1937, Wortham was sidelined because of illness, and Houston lost. In 1938 and 1939, with Wortham back at full strength, the Houston team again won the National Championship.
In 1940, Houston placed second in the National Championships and third in 1941, after which the tournament was suspended for the duration of World War II. In 1941, James was transferred by Greyhound to Louisiana; in 1945 he returned to Waco. Although he did not return to national competition after the war, Wortham continued to play and teach volleyball throughout his life.
Wortham was named an All-American player twelve times from 1930 to 1941 and Most Valuable Player in many of the tournaments. He was the first player inducted into the Helms Foundation Volleyball Hall of Fame in 1954, and, when the United States Volleyball Association created the All-Time Great Volleyball Player Award, he was retroactively named its first recipient.
James Wortham was dubbed the “Best Volleyball Player of the First 50 Years of Volleyball” by the USVBA