More sand volleyball teams needed to justify prep program

How well is Arizona’s experiment in high school sand volleyball working out?  If numbers mean anything, probably not too well.

When the Arizona Region of USA Volleyball proposed the idea of adding sand volleyball as a recognized varsity sport, organizers said they could accommodate as many as 32 teams in the pilot program.  They got five.

The kids on the teams involved seem to be having a great time and the schools participating appear to be happy with how the program is running.  But it’s a rather weak showing for a program that is supposed to be a test run for a national roll-out.

We ran an article in October that outlined the early development of the sand volleyball program here.  At that time, hopes were high that schools would be quick to enroll in a low-cost sport – but that unbridled optimism is always the case when something new is being proposed.

Arizona is the first state to test the idea, and success here could encourage other states to give it a try.  But this inaugural effort obviously needs a bigger sampling before it can claim success.

There are 271 member high schools that belong to the Arizona Interscholastic Association, which enables them to participate in varsity competition.  The five sand volleyball schools represent less than two percent of the total.

And those schools that agreed to give it a try aren’t, for the most part, the high-profile sports programs that field recognizable teams.  Xavier Prep, a Division I program, and Fountain Hills High School, in Division III, are the most visible entries.  The only other large-school competitor is Valley Vista High School in Surprise, which is D-I.

(*Update 4/17/12…Just for the record, Xavier earned the first-ever high school sand volleyball championship when it beat Fountain Hills, 5-0.  The two-person team of Abby Hornacek and Mia Teilborg defeated Dominique Gil and Tia Kannapel.)

They’re joined by a couple of small private schools, each with strong sports programs in some sports.  Westwind Prep in Phoenix is involved in D-I through D-V competition, depending on the sport, and Scottsdale Prep varies from D-II to D-IV.

The teams play one game a week and, with just five teams, one school sits out each week.  All games are played at Victory Lane Sports Park in Glendale, which is donating court time to help get the program off the ground, so there is some travel involved.

That travel expense is considered a factor in not having more teams involved, although overall the program’s appeal was in the fact that little expense would be involved.  Uniforms that were supposed to be just spandex shorts and sleeveless tops wouldn’t be expensive, and there would be no on-campus facility use involved.

We’ll have to wait until next year, if the program does move forward, to find out whether budget considerations are actually a deciding factor since the schools will have had time to work them into next year’s budget.

But there’s one other motivation for developing a sand volleyball program.  It’s seen as a way to help the high school districts increase the number of girls participating in sports – a critical factor in meeting Title IX compliance.  The Title IX law, passed in 1972, requires gender equity for all school programs that want to receive federal funding.

The law has fostered a huge increase in girls’ sports participation at the high school level since it’s passing, but school districts are often hard-pressed to meet its requirements.  Sand volleyball would help since teams generally involve a dozen players, many of whom may not have otherwise been involved in sports activity.

Original plans called for a six-week season, topped off with an end-of-season tournament.  With fewer teams than expected, the tournament has been eliminated.

But maybe that can be included next year.  Assuming, of course, there will be enough teams enrolled next year to continue.

It will most certainly take more than five.  But this was a start.