The Wright Call

By Dave Wright

Adding boys’ volleyball as a high school varsity sport should be easy to do—at least in theory. There’s little dispute that volleyball has become a popular addition to boys’ athletics. In a relatively short time, club teams have popped up all across the state. The Minnesota Boys High School Volleyball Association lists 55 teams playing this spring. Central has a team in the East Conference. (The governor’s son, Tim, is a member.) Minnehaha Academy, which is part of a cooperative team with Great River Academy, is competing in the same conference. Junior Olympic volleyball enrollment is growing as well.

As was the case when girls’ hockey started up as a high school sport, coaches like Kim Benka, who guides Minnehaha’s girls’ volleyball, have stepped up to provide guidance and advice for the boys’ club players who compete at the Redhawks’ gym.

Nearly every high school in the state has a girls’ volleyball team that plays in the fall. Thus, having the boys play in the spring when no other indoor sports are scheduled shouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, there were just enough question marks raised concerning the move that only 31 members–one less than was needed for passage—of the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) Representative Assembly voted in favor of it at the last meeting. As a result, boys’ volleyball advocates went away disappointed—for the third time.

   

“There are always people who see ghosts in their job,” said Minnehaha athletic director Josh Thurow, who voted in favor of adding boys’ volleyball. “I think the potential cost scares them. But if it had passed, we’d have found the money to make it work.”

Money is tight in many schools and high school athletic directors can only stretch their allotment so much. All of them will have to find the cash to install shot clocks for basketball next winter. Coming up with funds to pay for coaches, officials, buses, uniforms, etc., for boys’ volleyball was viewed as an added expense some schools felt they couldn’t afford. After all, there’s only so much money a school can gain from fundraisers.

Lindsey Weaver, who coaches Minnehaha’s co-op team, is all in on the subject of boys’ volleyball. “We had 35 players at tryouts and kept 30 on the roster,” she said. “We have six kids from Highland Park and one from Saint Paul Academy involved.”

 

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For some larger schools, fatigue and staff shortages were also a concern. One athletic director said, “We’re beat up after a long winter. In addition, with the poor weather in April, the gyms got a lot of use anyway. Adding volleyball games would have meant longer days for all.”

For some smaller schools, the issue is more than money. The worry was that if volleyball was played in the spring, it might take some athletes away from baseball and track teams that need all the bodies they can get. Another fear was if one school offered volleyball and another didn’t, the latter could lose students who transfer.

In some cases, a boys’ volleyball team would have required forming a cooperative entity with another school. Though that has worked out in sports like football and hockey, it’s tricky coming up with a site that everybody agrees on.

Title IX is another potential problem. “If we add boys’ volleyball, do we have to add something for girls?” one athletic director asked.

Thurow acknowledged all the concerns, but said the advantages outweigh the potential issues.  He noted that boys’ volleyball is very popular in the state’s growing Asian American community.

Indeed, Como Park athletic director Koua Yang was one of the leaders of the charge to add the sport. “If we value something, we include it in the budget,” he told reporters. “If we value something in the league, we include it in the league. Obviously we don’t value boys’ volleyball, according to this vote.”

Lindsey Weaver, who coaches Minnehaha’s co-op team, is all in on the subject of boys’ volleyball. “We had 35 players at tryouts and kept 30 on the roster,” she said. “We have six kids from Highland Park and one from Saint Paul Academy involved.”

Weaver, who is an assistant volleyball coach at Macalester, coached prep boys overseas in Japan and the Czech Republic before returning to the Twin Cities. She has been involved in the boys’ game since leagues started in 2018. “The number of players involved have jumped from 80 to around 1400,” she said.

Weaver noted a key part of the proposed legislation was that the sport would start in the 2023-24 school year, thus giving administrators plenty of time to get ready. “The people who fought for this did all the right things. There are students involved who don’t play any other sport,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do for the kids.”

Another sign of growth is summer boys’ volleyball leagues are starting to pop up around the Twin Cities.  “The momentum is exponential,” Weaver said.

MSHSL executive director Erich Martens said he understands the dismay of the boys’ volleyball advocates, but his hands are tied. The league’s bylaws state that only the 48-person Representative Assembly can authorize the move of a sport to varsity status.

Saint Kate’s extends championship spring

It was a busy and extremely successful sports season at Saint Catherine University this spring. It actually started last October when the Wildcats rallied from a slow start to win the MIAC women’s golf championship by 15 strokes over Gustavus Adolphus. It was their second straight conference title. Their reward was a berth in the NCAA Division III team championships in Houston earlier this month.

Eight months is a long time to wait. The Wildcats spent a lot of time practicing indoors, but escaped to Saint Louis and Illinois for a pair of tournaments in early April. Minnesota’s fickle spring weather left the Wildcats with two tournaments on local soil before heading to a warmer climate.

Saint Kate’s was seeded 15th in the 29-team field and finished right where it was projected, saving its best day on the course for its last. It ended up with a score of 1,258 over the four days of competition.

The future looks bright for SCU golf. Greta McArthur, the Wildcats’ low scorer at nationals with a 46th-place finish overall, and Kyra Venner, who was the team’s fourth-lowest scorer, are just freshmen.

School may be out for the summer, but SCU junior tennis player Kelsey Dorr still has work to do. The Princeton, Minnesota, native went 13-2 playing No. 1 singles and earned an invitation to the NCAA women’s individual tennis championships on May 27-29 in Orlando. It’s her second straight trip to nationals. Last year, she won a first-round match, but lost in the round of 32.

Dave Wright can be reached at dwright53@msn.com.

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