Part IV: The Lithuania Community of Cleveland Since World War II
In May, 1950, the Lithuanian Sports Club Žaibas (Lightning), was founded with Vytautas Jaunuškis elected as president, and since that time Lithuanian sports activity has centered on this energetic organization. Later in 1950 Algirdas Bielskus arrived in Cleveland, was elected president of Žaibas, and became and remains the leading sports promoter. During his first year as president, Bielskus had the Club incorporated as a full member in the Amateur Athletic Union of the United States (AAU), and in 1951 the women’s basketball team participated for the first time in the Northeastern Ohio AAU competition and took second place. With the establishment of the North American Lithuanian Sports Organization in 1951, Žaibas became a member and has remained one of the most active. Bielskus again was in the forefront, being president of the new organization for 1951 and 1952, as well as holding additional terms later. With the formation of the North American Baltic Athletic Federation (NABAF) in 1957, Bielskus again became an active member, and was elected president for the 1970-1974 period. In the beginning the Club concentrated on basketball, volleyball, track and field, and ping pong, and added swimming in 1956, tennis in 1960, and skiing in 1968. Of these, volleyball was to be the Club’s forte. Beginning in 1958 the women’s team won the Ohio championhip ten years in a row, and has been the Fourth Region (Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, and western Pennsylvania) top team for nine years. Furthermore, the team, representing Ohio, participated six times in the competition sponsored by the United States Volleyball Association
In track and field, Žaibas dominated in North American Lithuanian competition since 1952, and the same year in the North-Eastern Ohio AAU games Elvyra Šikšnius took first place in the fifty and one hundred yard dash, and Stefa Juodvalkis-Gedgaudas in the shot put. The following year the club won first place in the same competition with Šikšnius & Juodvalkis spearheading the team, and in 1956 during the NABAF games the two girls again earned Žaibas first place in track and field. Others to become state track and field champions include Edmond (Šilingas) and V. Lenkaitis, who in 1962 took first place in the high jump and discus respectively, with Lenkaitis repeating the feat in 1964. One of the most recent to make a name for herself was Rita Čyvas, who for 1974-1975 was selected as a candidate for the United States Volleyball Team and the first woman to receive the Outstanding Athlete of the Year Award at Cleveland State University.