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Club boys volleyball still struggling to gain foothold

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Boys high school volleyball players might need to hit over a net, but at times it must feel like they are wrapped up in it.

Both the Columbus North and Columbus East high schools have boys volleyball club teams, but it doesn’t appear their favorite sport will be sanctioned anytime soon by the Indiana High School Athletics Association.

Without that sanction, the clubs must make the best of their situation, and that often means they have a hard time finding a place to practice.

With other sanctioned sports in full swing, the local high school club teams can have a hard time securing gym time.

Columbus North coach Shannon Burch has his team practice once a week at Southside to get at least a little bit of practice in before the team’s season begins.

“With other sports going on at this time, it’s hard to get court times,” Burch said. “We have to wait until 8 p.m. some days to practice for an hour at most. We have to wait until there is an opening at the high school, and that could be weeks before we could get in and practice.”

Since 1994, boys volleyball has not been sanctioned by the IHSAA.

Sandy Searcy, the assistant commissioner of the IHSAA, said it is a matter of getting the number of teams around the state to a higher level.

“With 412 total (possible) teams in the state, a sport needs to have at least half the teams in the state participate in that sport to be incorporated and approved by the executive committee of the IHSAA,” Searcy said.

Considering the economics of running an athletics program, the sports that aren’t sanctioned at this point face a tremendous uphill battle.

Sports that currently are sanctioned, but have fallen below the numbers of total teams needed, are at the mercy of the IHSAA executive committee. Gymnastics, for instance, has been approved for the past 20 years despite being below the required numbers.

Burch said the number of high school club volleyball teams has declined in the past few years.

“Participation and exposure is key,” Burch said. “There are 25 to 30 teams in the state currently, and the most we have had at any given time is a little over 40, and it’s only getting tougher to get schools involved.”

“You are put in a holding pattern until a girls sport gets sanctioned as well,” Burch said. “There are just a lot of things that have put this sport on the back-burner in regards to getting it sanctioned.”

Columbus East coach Shari Krause coached in Pennsylvania, where boys volleyball was a state-sanctioned sport, before coming to Indiana to coach.

“Once they get in the program, they love it,” Krause said. “I’ve had seniors tell me that they wished they had played their freshmen year, so it’s such a shame that we can’t get this further along. The guys are committed to sports once they get into high school, and to not have that exposure to volleyball is sad.”

While getting team numbers in the state to rise has been a struggle, Burch added that it is tough for the coaches to work strictly on a volunteer basis.

“Some schools don’t pay (club) coaches anymore and that leaves people in a financial stress,” Burch said. “There is going to need to be funding. Bigger teams that exist are supported by the schools and get court times, yet some coaches won’t be paid.”

With track and field, baseball and golf in full swing for boys, Krause said getting athletes to participate is difficult.

“It is such a team sport, and everyone is a vital component to the team,” Krause said. “It’s hard for some athletes because we have some that play spring sports and can’t come to all of our practices and commit to the game.”

Krause acknowledged that exposure is key to getting boys volleyball on the rise, and said that word of mouth can’t keep boys volleyball going.

“If we promoted it well enough, had sign ups and broadcasted it, we could be some exposure to the sport,” Krause said. “Spreading the word has been one of the main reasons we have a team.”

“It hurts for the most part because it is a sport that is unseen,” Burch said. “If schools would give five days a week for boys volleyball, it would take off, and more people would be involved.”

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