Adversity founder Mike Hulett remembered as a coach, friend and mentor

Adversity founder Mike Hulett passed away suddenly on May 9. (photo courtesy of USA Volleyball)

Michael R. Hulett, founder of Adversity Volleyball Club and the former head coach for the U.S. Men’s and Women’s Sitting Volleyball Teams who passed away suddenly May 9, was remembered as a friend, a mentor and an inspiration.

“The Adversity family and volleyball community experienced a significant loss with Mike’s passing,” said Adversity girls’ program director Melissa Vandrey Masterson. “We lost a mentor, a coach, and more importantly, a friend. Mike poured his heart and soul into Adversity and is the sole reason it is what it is today.

“Everything Mike did for Adversity and volleyball is beyond admirable,” she added. “He loved nothing more then talking volleyball (with anyone who would listen) and providing kids an opportunity to play a sport they love. Mike is one of the most inspirational, supportive, and passionate people I’ve ever met. He challenged you, but believed in everyone and made everyone feel like family.

“I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to work alongside him, to learn, grow, and create everlasting memories,” Masterson said. “Mike is a true legend whose legacy, as well as the Adversity name, will never be forgotten.”

A 2012 recipient of USA Volleyball’s highest honor, the Harold T. Friermood “Frier” Award recipient for lifetime achievement, Hulett’s philosophy at Adversity was to train volleyball players by focusing on game situations.

“The science has been out there for 40 years that says the best way to learn and attain skills is to do it in a game-like way,” he said in an interview with in June 2018. “When you’re doing a two-person drill, it’s not very game-like. You pass the ball back and forth. Do you do that in a game?

“Another part of that is, what is their mental focus when they’re playing pepper? ‘Hey, how are you doing? How was your day?’ You see setters training against a wall all the time. Has anyone ever won a gold medal in wall-setting?

“Do we need to teach and do things in drill situations? Yes, absolutely. You have to do that when you’re dealing with younger athletes,” he added. “But the bottom line is you have to play the game to be good at the game.”

A quadruple amputee, Hulett was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age 13 and was confined to a wheelchair. But he served as an inspiration to many throughout his coaching career.

“Mike was an inspiration to all our athletes and leaders within the sport of volleyball,” said USA Volleyball CEO Jamie Davis. “He touched so many lives through his coaching and leadership within the Great Lakes Region. We will miss his contributions to the sport.”

A year ago, Hulett hired Keith Kujawa, a Richards High School graduate who was a member of the first men’s team at Lewis University, as boys’ program director, former Queen of Peace and University of Illinois star Melissa Vandrey Masterson, and former Barrington standout and Penn State NCAA National Champion Kyle Masterson, to help overhaul the club.

“Mike had done pretty much everything by himself,” Kujawa said.

Adversity has more than 500 alumni, of whom approximately 100 have competed collegiately as such men’s powerhouses as UCLA, USC, Pepperdine, Ohio State, Loyola, Lewis, Penn State, Ball State, Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and Princeton, as well as Division II, III and NAIA schools.

Adversity began offering a girls’ program in 2016-17, and qualified its 18s girls team for the USA Volleyball Junior National Championships recently held in Dallas, Texas, and has also qualified its Adversity G16 Purple Adidas and Adversity G16 Adidas teams for the junior nationals this summer.

Hulett graduated from Northwestern University and a was CAP V-rated coach who also served on the board of directors of the Great Lakes Region. He was the head coach of the USA men’s paralympic sitting team in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics and was head coach of the 2004 and 2008 USA Olympics women’s sitting teams.

The USA won the bronze medal in Athens in 2004 and won silver in Beijing in 2008.

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