Boys volleyball is already the second fastest-growing sport in the country since 2012 and could be poised for more growth nationwide.
According to the NFHS sports participation survey, there were 24 states with 2,472 schools that had a boys volleyball team during the 2017-18 school year. That equated to nearly 61,000 participants.
In the previous school year of 2016-17, there were 23 states with 2,400 schools and 57,209 participants in boys volleyball. California leads the way with 869 schools and 20,790 participants.
This past summer, boys club volleyball, run through the Junior Olympic program, had 103 Under-17 teams compete for three championships in a national tournament in Phoenix. The corresponding Under-17 girls team national tournament had 226 teams competing in Detroit.
The growth in boys volleyball has been about 12 percent annually and it is not expected to slow.
“As momentum builds, and our numbers continue to grow, it’s important to remember that the female and male versions of our sport help each other immensely,” noted Hugh McCutcheon, University of Minnesota women’s volleyball coach, on the Minnesota Boys High School Volleyball Association’s website. “There are very few sports that can say that.”
McCutcheon, a former men’s and women’s U.S. Olympic coach, is a major proponent of bringing the boys game to the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL). Boys volleyball is among the emerging activities the MSHSL is considering.
“Without question, having a boys volleyball team will help your girls team – and vice-versa,” McCutcheon said.
Possible reasons for the continued growth of the sport are opportunities to play at the college and international levels, as well as the sport’s flexibility in that it can be played on a beach, a backyard or in a gymnasium.
In addition to being termed a “life sport,” the injury rate in volleyball is also lower than in most other sports, and action tends to be fast-paced with no major delays. Matches are played to 25 points and not dictated by a clock.
The Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) is the latest state association to advance boys volleyball. Last February, the CHSAA gave the approval for boys volleyball, along with girls wrestling and Unified bowling to begin two-year pilot seasons. Boys volleyball supporters in Colorado spent approximately 20 years in their push for CHSAA approval.
In 2017, Michigan began a process to consider boys volleyball with inclusivity being a key factor as well as the MHSAA legacy. The threshold for participation in Michigan is 64 schools.
In Minnesota, the push for boys volleyball has happened quickly. Last spring, there were more than 400 boys representing 38 teams and 22 schools that participated.
“How much interest is there?” asked Krista Fleming, one of the directors of the Minnesota High School Boys Volleyball Association, when she addressed Minnesota’s 16 Region Secretaries on August 20. “Kids are lining up for information and signing up. It’s been incredible. There is so much support.”
The expected growth in the spring of 2019 is expected to reach 44 schools in Minnesota.
Not surprisingly, metro areas are where the first signs of growth are taking place in the boys game. For example, Rockwall, a suburban school near Dallas, played its second season in the spring of 2018. Rockwall belongs to the Texas Boys Varsity Volleyball League.
Most boys volleyball programs are offered during the spring, although Wisconsin, Virginia and New York hold their seasons in the fall. The spring is attractive for the boys game in many states because gym space tends to be more available than other times of the year.
While some conflicts arise, especially during inclement weather when other spring sports teams need indoor space for practice sessions, many facilities are idle when the action shifts outdoors.
The infrastructure for boys volleyball appears to be in place in most schools that offer girls volleyball. With different seasons, girls volleyball coaches should be in place to coach the boys teams. There are no perceived equipment costs since nets and volleyballs are already in a school’s storage closet, and there is no differential in volleyballs between boys and girls such as exists in basketball.
Expenses would include coaching salaries, transportation, tournament entry fees and uniforms.
Despite its front-runner status, California is not the first state to hold a championship for boys volleyball. That honor belongs to Wisconsin, which hosted a boys volleyball championship from 1948 to 1982 before being dropped because of dwindling participating schools. Wisconsin resumed the state tournament format in 2000.
Hawaii has hosted a state tournament since 1969. California has run tournaments for the Southern portion of the state since 2009, and Northern part since 2013.
Internationally, volleyball has strong roots on both the male and female side. The U.S. men’s team has won the gold medal three times: 1984, 1988 and 2008. The U.S. women’s team has been to the championship match three times, coming away with silver medals in 1984, 2008 and 2012.
The NCAA has held a men’s national championship since 1970. Currently, 48 Division I and II schools comprise the National Collegiate Program. Along with Division III schools sponsoring boys volleyball, that number balloons to 188.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that California teams have dominated the Division I men’s event with UCLA winning the first of its 19 titles in 1970. Of the 11 men’s titlists, six have been from California with 36 championships (or 75 percent of the total titles).
Nebraska could be next to consider boys volleyball as a high school sport. Indiana, Ohio and Missouri, among other states, have boys volleyball teams without being under the state association umbrella.
Tim Leighton is communications coordinator for the Minnesota State High School League and a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.