Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Volleyball How High Can It Rise?

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Volleyball How High Can It Rise?

Article excerpt

A venerable sport gets an Olympic bounce

A dozen bouncing teenage girls in knee pads and tight, multicolored, spandex shorts are running through drills, springing up and rolling to the floor through their "collapse-n-jumpz," an exercise that will help them in digging and diving for balls. At every turn, the girls double-high-five each other.

Even without the sand, the game has a beach-party feel. But this is no party for the elite cadre of volleyball athletes, who are serious enough about building mental and physical skills that they'll spend more than 2 1/2 hours training that night, while their parents look on through an observation window.

"Guys! Ready?" shouts their coach, as his piercing whistle signals them to snap to attention. Within seconds they are dispatched to half-court positions in the indoor gym, where they're soon hurling powerful overhand serves like pros.

After the Intensive Training Program (ITP) clinic in Bellevue, Wash. - taught by Bill Neville, national commissioner for coaching education with USA Volleyball and a pro coach to Olympic stars such as Karch Kiraly - 16 -yearold Rachel Peterson, in blue cheetahprint shorts, exudes about her love for the sport.

"It makes me want to work really hard so I can play the beach tournament next summer," she says. Agreeing with her is teammate Allie Hadley, 15, who in the summer of eighth grade began a small business running volleyball camps for her little brother's friends out of her own backyard. "Wait," considers Rachel, jokingly adding, "maybe you should call me up next summer, and we'll work out a deal."

Like hundreds of thousands of girls across the United States this time of year, they've just gone through highly competitive tryouts and have been accepted on select club teams. Training to be recruited by Division I and II colleges, they hope to win scholarships, compete in the Summer Olympics, or later work as pros or coaches. The role models for these confident, enterprising young women are gold medalists Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, who have done for volleyball what Mia Hamm did for women's soccer, bringing visibility to the increasingly competitive and growing spectator sport.

Across the lake at the University of Washington's Husky Stadium in Seattle, girls only a few years older are practicing for the NCAA regional playoffs being held the following weekend. "Volleyball? It's huge," says Husky Team Shop manager Terry Walcutt, "It's now as strong, if not stronger, than women's basketball." Drawing at least 3,000 at the last game, the team could see 6,000 or 7,000 spectators for the regional matches.

While volleyball doesn't have the televised authence of football or basketball, the sport's appeal has widened, drawing a new base of fans who watched the Beijing games, where U.S. volleyball teams won medals in every event. Women's beach volleyball stars May-Treanor and Walsh captured their second gold medal as Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers won a gold medal for the U.S. men's beach volleyball team.

The gleam of Olympic gold also flashed on indoor volleyball. A gold medal went to the U.S. Men's National Indoor Volleyball team for the first time since 1988, and the U.S. Women's National Indoor Volleyball team won a silver medal.

"Beach volleyball has seen a growing level of participation," says BJ. Evans of USA Volleyball. "But indoor volleyball is still hugely popular in clubs, schools, and colleges, especially for women."

While there hasn't been time to measure whether volleyball has experienced an appreciable bounce in popularity since Beijing, Neville says, "The turnout for tryouts seems much higher than in past years. From some indications, it's been overwhelming."

Volleyball has gone from a walk-in sport to a cut sport in many places, offering many opportunities for parks and recreation programs to fill the growing demand.

It's Anybody's Game

For 30 years, volleyball's popularity has been rising steadily. …

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