Sand volleyball may be coming to a high school near you

Arizona’s governing body for high school sports is sticking its collective toe in the sand as it considers adding a new varsity sport to the landscape.

Sand volleyball is riding a wave of popularity and the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) is hoping to capitalize on that interest.

The volleyball variation has always been a great recreational sport, and has gained increasing popularity at the professional level, where it is more often played on beaches and thus marketed as  ‘beach volleyball.’  But now it is moving into the schools.

It’s already happening at the collegiate level since the NCAA approved the sport last year to be played at the Division II level and this year as a D-I sport.  Georgia State, for example, just added sand volleyball as its 10th women’s sport last month, and will begin competition in the spring of 2013.  And there are 15-20 colleges that will be adding the sport at the varsity level by next spring.

However, high schools haven’t embraced the concept yet.  The few that offer it continue to relegate it to recreational status.

Brother Rice High School in Chicago is a good example.  Each Wednesday afternoon when Brother Ickes sets up the sand volleyball program in Evergreen Park, it’s just a way for the Catholic high school to provide an additional intramural activity for those students who aren’t participating in a fall sport.

But now, Arizona has become the first state to test the idea of installing sand volleyball as a recognized high school varsity sport.

The push came from the Arizona Region of USA Volleyball, which first proposed the idea to the AIA a year ago and then came back last month with a more formalized plan that included a list of high schools that were interested in beginning a sand volleyball program for the girls.

And the Arizona Region will take an active role in helping the plan succeed.  The Region has agreed to work with the AIA to train officials, pick up court costs for an end-of-season tournament, and help with match and tournament management.

A pilot season has been set up, which will begin Feb. 6, run for six weeks, and conclude with an invitational tournament in March.  The program, as it exists at this early stage, needs at least eight schools to sign on and can accommodate as many as 32 teams.

A Glendale venue will provide the courts, as Victory Lanes Sports Park has agreed to waive the normal entry fee and court costs for the first year to help the program get off the ground with minimal investment.

The low cost of developing a sand volleyball program, as compared with other school sports, was one of the factors that has encouraged the high schools to get involved.  And uniform costs should be modest since the girls will wear the traditional style of indoor volleyball uniform that includes spandex shorts and sleeveless top.

But there are other obvious advantages to the addition of a sand volleyball program, not the least of which is that it can help the schools better match up to the federally-mandated Title IX requirements which are designed to provide more opportunities for women in sports.

Sand volleyball is also a good way to cross-train for other sports and improves speed and jumping ability for indoor volleyball players.  It also  creates more opportunities for participation at the high school level, and should give the girls who play volleyball an increased chance to be seen by college recruiters.

But above all that, it meets another important criteria.  It’s something the kids enjoy playing.  Indoor volleyball follows only basketball and track as the sport that enjoys the greatest participation among high school girls.

This pilot program could lead to sand volleyball being sanctioned as an AIA sport, and could encourage other states to adopt the idea.