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Northern California boys volleyball: a lost cause?

When I think of U.S. men’s volleyball, thoughts of 1984 and 1988 Olympic gold medals come to mind. U.S. men also took bronze at Barcelona in 1992. But to look at boys high school volleyball nowadays, the successes of the past seem only an aberration. How was it all possible? Yes, many of the high school kids are very serious about the sport, though many schools seem to have “athletes” that turn up after the winter sports seasons. A lot of these guys seem to have little knowledge of the game, and appear to just be filling time until their main sport starts again. Also, the uniforms that players wear at many schools look like their big brothers’ hand-me-downs. In contrast, most girls teams appear more sharply outfitted in the fall. Though this might sound superficial to some, it gives an indication that somebody cares.
Back to the guys, coaches tell me that high school boys volleyball is big in Southern California. And a check of the Olympic rosters would bear this out – - the medal-winning U.S. men’s Olympic teams of the past, for instance, had a strong SoCal influence. Of course, the weather in that part of the state generally is fairer and warmer throughout most of the year, and many folks hone their skills at the beach. The same holds true for places like Brazil and Hawaii, where both forms of volleyball – - beach and court — are strong. Still, places like China, Japan, the former Soviet bloc and a number of nations of Western Europe also have shown their mettle indoors.
Volleyball is a U.S. invention, exported to the world reportedly by American GIs during the world wars and periods of occupation. But like the “British Invasion” of rock-and-roll music, volleyball needed folks from other places to bring it back to our shores.
Men’s volleyball at its best is Karch Kiraly, Craig Buck, Pat Powers and Steve Timmons. “Sideout,” a 1990 film with actor Peter Horton as an aging volleyball stud who proves he still has game, is a neat, though obscure, sports movie usually reserved, unfortunately, for late-night TV. But the enthusiasm of Hollywood and the success of the men’s national team team in past years seems to not have captured the imagination of the entire nation. Seems like high-quality high school boys volleyball exists somewhere, but you’ll have to drive a ways to find it.
While we’re on the subject of volleyball, riddle me this. Girls volleyball, in contrast to the boys, is huge stuff in these parts. High schools have a state championship and club ball thrives. Despite all this, the U.S. women’s medal take in the Olympics consists of a silver in 1984 and a bronze in 1992. Some things in sports just don’t make sense.

— Mike McGreehan

Posted by on March 29, 2007.

Categories: Boys volleyball, Girls Volleyball, Prep Sports

  • Bread

    One has to wonder what the motive of a hit piece like this is on a high school sport. Just to churn the pot for posts? Or more sinister?
    It’s case is offered with unsupported & falacious cracks.
    Then it closes a laughable effort to suggest insight into the game. Movies?!
    More later (thou that screed is unworthy)

  • hammertime

    on Mike McGreehan’s editorial

    “When I think of U.S. men’s volleyball, thoughts of 1984 and 1988 Olympic gold medals come to mind. U.S. men also took bronze at Barcelona in 1992. But to look at boys high school volleyball nowadays, the successes of the past seem only an aberration. How was it all possible? Yes, many of the high school kids are very serious about the sport, though many schools seem to have “athletes” that turn up after the winter sports seasons.”

    A Jump from Barcelona to a Northgate High? THIN. As to ‘turning up’..perhaps it’s the reverse. I know one big frontrow kid who dropped other spring sports and joined club when he discovered Vbll. (A 4 sport boy)
    ——————–
    “A lot of these guys seem to have little knowledge of the game, and appear to just be filling time until their main sport starts again.”

    “SEEM” & “APPEAR” ? Could be the poverty of your information. 1. Most 9th & 10 graders are just being introduced to the game. (the same for girls) 2. BTW who did you investigate? Pittsburg High? Right, they don’t much care about boys vbl. But then, the exception is NOT the rule.
    —————————
    Also, the uniforms that players wear at many schools look like their big brothers’ hand-me-downs. In contrast, most girls teams appear more sharply outfitted in the fall. Though this might sound superficial to some, it gives an indication that somebody cares.
    —————————- MORE bad info. Mike’s team must be lacking but evidently he missed seeing the entire EBAL or most DFAL or Deer Valley. College Park has nice new unis every year. Want pictures?
    ——————————–

    “Back to the guys, coaches tell me that high school boys volleyball is big in Southern California. And a check of the Olympic rosters would bear this out – - the medal-winning U.S. men’s Olympic teams of the past, for instance, had a strong SoCal influence”.

    MIKE get a clue. For starters SoCal has like 8 times as many high schools. Also the EBAL & BVAL are as strong or stronger than ever.
    ———————————–
    “Of course, the weather in that part of the state generally is fairer and warmer throughout most of the year, and many folks hone their skills at the beach. The same holds true for places like Brazil and Hawaii, where both forms of volleyball – - beach and court — are strong. Still, places like China, Japan, the former Soviet bloc and a number of nations of Western Europe also have shown their mettle indoors”.

    The “Soviet Bloc”? This editorial is really ‘special’. (NOT)
    ………………………….
    “Men’s volleyball at its best is Karch Kiraly, Craig Buck, Pat Powers and Steve Timmons. “Sideout,” a 1990 film with actor Peter Horton as an aging volleyball stud who proves he still has game, is a neat, though obscure, s ports movie….But the enthusiasm of Hollywood and the success of the men’s national team team in past years seems to not have captured the imagination of the entire nation.”

    Another treadbare connection to High Schools in Northern Cal !!
    ———————————
    “Seems like high-quality high school boys volleyball exists somewhere, but you’ll have to drive a ways to find it”.

    Wait! Mike’s offering conclusions without even making your point? As to NorCal Boys volleyball maybe you just need a guide….or a guidedog. Start with NorCal programs like Bellermine, Granite Bay, San Ramon, Los Gatos, and Foothill. All in NorCal. But a year ago, a 5 min. drive to Walnut Creek’s Tice Valley gym for the DeLaSalle’s Invitational would have cured of your myopia. You could have seen most of them…all in one day.
    ———————————
    “While we’re on the subject of volleyball, riddle me this. Girls volleyball, in contrast to the boys, is huge stuff in these parts. High schools have a state championship and club ball thrives.”

    1. Has little to do with the kids. That is mostly by design & preference of sports governance and adults (like you?) 2. Talk to the male players sometimes. Half know the boys from other leagues. DUHH ! Because many of them play club together. Its a GIVEN on many teams.
    ———————————
    “Despite all this, the U.S. women’s medal take in the Olympics consists of a silver in 1984 and a bronze in 1992. Some things in sports just don’t make sense.”

    MIKE, that last sentiment is understandable with your info. deficit. Forget High School boys volleyball. Thanks for playing but start with some night courses in logic and writing.

  • Jim Stapleton

    Mike, with respect, you write like you’ve LEARNED about the sport, but you don’t KNOW about the sport. Some of the shortcomings:

    * You thought of U.S. men’s volleyball, thoughts of 1984 and 1988 Olympic gold medals come to mind. U.S. men also took bronze at Barcelona in 1992.

    The past success isn’t an one aberration as you’d stated. The U. S. played in the bronze medal match at the last Olympics. They are currently ranked 8th in the world (out of 106 national teams) and were recently as high as 5th. The U. S. is still a major international player.

    * You’re right, there are a number of athletes who play volleyball as a secondary sport, particularly in Northern California. Chase Budinger, McDonald’s All-American from San Diego and currently starting as a true frosh at Arizona was one, as were Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson, Wilt Chamberlain and Tank Williams. These are rarities; however, as most top volleyball players are singularly devoted to the sport. I agree that their knowledge of the game tends not to be encyclopedic, but it is unfair to point out athletes who play other sports along with volleyball as the norm.

    * Agree with you that the unis leave something to be desired. So what?

    * You can’t compare the 1 million+ girls who have been playing volleyball competitively for decades with the 50,000 boys who play it in high school, and who only started playing competitive high school ball in 1996. You just can’t. Volleyball for girls is like football for boys…the most important sport, with the highest visibility, the most money, and the highest percentage of “negativity.”

    * Guys volleyball is big in Southern California, it is true. It is also big in Northern California. The NorCal teams are starting to play pretty well in Southern California, despite the fact that NorCal players don’t play on beaches year round, and they don’t have top level competition to play against year round. For example, three players from just one Northern California Volleyball Club (NCVC) have signed with the top-ranked D1 college team in the country, Pepperdine; and another of the NCVC players signed with Cal Baptist, the top-ranked NAIA team. Ben Douglas of Bay to Bay signed with UCSB and last year, Hunter Current and Sam Kridl of that same club signed with USC and UCLA respectively. Bay to Bay’s 16 year old team finished 5th of 51 teams in SoCal’s January Invitational, and their 15 year old team finished second, taking the champs (OCVC) to a tiebreaker. San Jose’s Bellarmine College Prep finished third of 32 SoCal teams at the prestigious Santa Barbara Invitation. Last year’s Granite Bay High team was incredibly strong.

    * You can’t understate the importance of beach volleyball in developing top notch players. In beach doubles, the two players touch the ball every single time, they have to cover more ground, and they have to cover that ground in a more tiring environment, sand. It isn’t a coincidence that SoCal players, with the many beaches, tend to be strong. A 30,000,000 strong population helps, too. Italy has beaches, so does Brazil.

    * I respect the players you mentioned. “Sideout,” I don’t care much about. But neither is Men’s volleyball at its best. You said “Seems like high-quality high school boys volleyball exists somewhere, but you’ll have to drive a ways to find it.” You can find it at the 32-team Leland Charger Classic, or two weekends a month at NCVA age group tournaments.

  • JD Brosnan

    I dedicated close to 10 years to high school boy’s volleyball as a player and as a coach and I can now say more than half my life to the sport as a whole. I can’t help but agree with the gist of this article. There is a huge separation between the level of boy’s volleyball in northern and southern California, as well as a major rift between perceptions of the sport’s value as a men’s vs. women’s sport. It’s a shame. While they are distinctly different as spectator sports, each brand has a strength and elegance of its own rarely equaled.

    Regarding participation, look at the numbers on the women’s side – they are staggering. At the Division I level in the NCAA, the women have 43 conferences, comprised of 315 teams. Last check on NCAA.org shows only 22 men’s DI teams. Let’s not mention the fact that even those men’s teams that are fully funded still only have only 4.5 scholarships to delve out to a roster of 15+. That’s not enough to field a starting line up, let alone a traveling squad of 12! Plus, not all teams are fully funded. Most women’s teams carry a full 12 scholarships, allowing them to fill out their travel roster with scholarship athletes. Plus there are opportunities at the DII & III levels for girls that just don’t exist for the men.

    Now back to volleyball as a men’s sport. With the resurgence of the AVP & the addition of beach volleyball to the Olympics, the timing is right for there to be a boon to boy’s volleyball in the area. The EBAL, DFAL & BVAL have some great athletes and teams playing volleyball these days, kids who choose it as a primary sport, not something to do to pass the time. There are solid athletes that have gone on to have success at the Division I level and beyond. Matt Weber (Liberty HS, Brentwood) has been helping Irvine elevate its program to one of the tops in the nation. Mark Bauhs (San Ramon Valley HS) is making contributions at Pacific and helping that program gain notoriety in the national spotlight. Evan Patak (Foothill HS, Pleasanton) continues to set records at UCSB, striking fear in his opponents as one of the most devastating point scorers in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation with his unrelenting serving and attacking.

    To the point about fill-in’s – It is much more common for a budding young athlete to have some intrinsic knowledge of one of the ‘big three’ sports. Most of us had a hoop in our back yard, were given a football for Christmas, had a glove on our hand and were taking batting practice by the time we were 10 (or younger!). Most boys volleyball players (including this one) don’t catch on until much later in life, and the time & repetitions required for a new player to shake that “second sport” or “recreational” look are significant.

    But let’s look at some other reasons why participation on the men’s side might not be up to par with the girls. Here are a few reasons: no state championship at the high school level, lack of college scholarships and competition for athletes. Boy’s volleyball is a spring sport and as such, competes for athletes with baseball, golf, swimming, diving, track, lacrosse and tennis (and maybe a few more?)… Fall and winter sports just don’t seem to have the same competition among athletes to me. There are other reasons, surely not limited to the high cost of club volleyball (true for all sports’ elite players, IMO), general lack of exposure, and the tendency for specialization at a young age these days also leads to fewer multi-sport athletes.

    So what’s the solution? Well it includes taking the CIF competition to the state level, but having dealt with high school administrations, it is clear that this is a daunting task to say the least. With Title IX issues and other hoops to jump through, there is no immediate hope. This falls on the high school coaches (and volleyball enthusiasts), AD’s and league commissioners to initiate a plan that is feasible.

    The plan should also include expanding volleyball education to the youth through PE, camps and leagues at the grade school level. Better education of coaches/educators about the advances in the game and its new rules and their applications is another important step. This is up to USA Volleyball, and they are making an effort to improve the coaching on all levels, but have little influence over the typical high school teacher/coach. Better pay for coaches would be a great way to entice us to devote the countless hours it takes to run a successful program, but given the state of most educational budgets I realize that this is not a likely scenario.

    One more thing I would call for immediately: unification of the rules. High school baseball players use aluminum bats, the pros use wood. The only other rule differences are implemented for safety. There are at least five different bodies governing rules for volleyball at various levels: FIVB (largely accepted for international & Olympic competitions), USAV, AVP, NCAA and CIF, not to mention various grass roots sanctioning bodies running local & regional competitions. All of them are at different stages for implementing rules & changes. I don’t even know how to begin this process, but you could easily write a doctorate thesis on it.

    There is also the scholarship issue at the DI level and I put that upon the coaches and former players who now have careers and influence. It’s not going to happen on its own and there would be a great incentive for the USAV to expand participation at the collegiate level to increase the talent pool from which our national teams are selected. Our dominance in the 80’s will likely not be revisited without better talent developed at all ages.

  • Jerry Karamazos

    Men’s collegiate volleyball isn’t limited to the D1 teams. There are a dozen teams which also offer 4.5 scholarships. There are 46 competitive D3 teams, and over 300 club programs at NCAA schools, some of which are strong enough to compete with midlevel D1 programs. Then there are NAIA schools which actually offer MORE than the 4.5 scholarships at NCAA D1 schools. These many hundreds of teams draw from the thousands of players in American high schools.

    Mr. McGreehan, next time around, you might want to have a little knowledge or experience to back up your drive-time, talk show, factless opinion.

  • Mike McGreehan

    Volleyball fans:
    Just returned after 11 days away from the office to see some interesting responses to my observations on high school boys volleyball in these parts. Hammertime, the connection between high schools and the highest levels of any sport is strong. In this day and age, especially, those reaching their sport’s highest levels typically were studs on their high school teams. High school also is one place where athletes hone their skills before moving up to the next level. Also, SoCal’s population advantage over NorCal partially explains some things. But if SoCal folks didn’t give a diddly-doink about volleyball, it would be popularly disregarded. The fact is, Hammertime, somebody has to care. Maybe the schools in your areas do, but this side of the Caldecott (Alameda and West Contra Costa counties) really is hit and miss (mostly the latter). Jim Stapleton, you mention the Leland Charger Classic. That’s in San Jose. For someone like myself that’s about an 80-mile round trip, which pretty much goes hand-in-hand with my argument of having to drive a ways to see quality high school volleyball. JD Brosnan, I’m glad I’m not alone in my observations. As for Title IX, it’s football that throws everything out of whack – - but I guess that’s a subject for another blog entry.

  • cptime

    BOTTOM LINE….Oakland, Berkeley & immediate environs are sad BUT overall you’re missing the boat.

    THE FACTS….
    http://middlehitter.com/middlehitter/News/2008_HS_Growth_Press_Release.htm

  • cptime

    West of the Caldecott? Why does your lead “Northern California” then?
    From Contra Costa to Sacramento to San Jose, the level of play gets more intense every year. Those areas used to be included in “Northern Calif”.

  • Facial

    It would make a big difference if someone who actually knew the sport was writing the piece.

  • John

    okay, i am a high school senior.
    i have playing volleyball since i was thirteen
    and i am really taleneted at it for teaching myself. i do boxershort volleyball during homecoming week at my high school, its an interschool mens tournament. i also keep stats for the girls team. i really wish i could play. i go to a school with 300 kids in it. We would have a guys team but there is no league near us. we would have to travel over five hours to the first game. If we could get a league going in noerthern california many students and coaches would be pleased.. please any ideas email me modocboy14@hotmail.com

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