Updated: Apr 27, 2020
Over the last 8 years, myself and Ryan Mariano at RPM Sand, along with so many others in Arizona, have tried really hard to help the sport of beach volleyball to grow. We love the sport! We love the opportunity it gives to young people to be a part of a team, to get out and be athletic and healthy, to learn from loss and how to grow. We have put literally thousands of hours into creating opportunities for players to learn the sport, and to pursue their dreams of playing it in college. Club directors, coaches, tournament directors... All of these people have devoted much of their lives to making it so that our sport can thrive and that young people can understand the feeling of what it is like to pursue a dream that may seem unattainable at some point, but through hard work and sacrifice they can make it happen.
I was sitting on my back patio on Wednesday this week. Professional beach volleyball players Sarah Sponcil and Sarah Pavan had just finished up a Zoom call with the RPM Sand girls. The call had been amazing! Over 100 people were on the call and were engaged, asking questions, and soaking up all of the knowledge that they could about the sport that they love from two of the best athletes in their sport. The call had gone for an hour and a half and as I watched each person's screen, their eyes were all glued to what was going on. If you have ever had to try to keep the interest of young people for more than about 15 minutes at a time, you know how difficult that can be.
As Sarah Sponcil and I sat on my patio and talked about how it had gone, about the game, and about the Coronavirus, she mentioned to me that there were rumblings of a lot of NCAA sports getting canceled and that she had been asked to do a video to try to help keep our sport alive. I was blown away! Say that again! Keep our sport alive? We talked about it for a while and I decided to do some research of my own just to understand what we are dealing with a little bit better. What I found in my research scares me for many sports, but for our beloved sport of beach volleyball, the matter sounds dire. Due to the Coronavirus shutting down the economy, our sport is in trouble!
A proposal has been set forth to allow NCAA Division 1 athletic departments to reduce the number of sports they are required to sponsor in order to keep their division 1 status. While I'm sure that big money sports like basketball and football are safe because of the revenue they bring in, some schools have already cut men's soccer programs, wrestling programs, and the like due to a lack of money to be able to support these programs. Beach volleyball is really just getting started as an NCAA sport. It is the fastest sport in NCAA history to go from an emerging sport to a championship sport, but it is also still growing within the college ranks. It would seem to be much easier to drop a sport that not all schools had yet in order to save money and the schools could much more easily justify that than some other sports.
With the momentum the sport had been gaining over the last decade, the professional tour had begun to grow. We were seeing incredible volleyball because the colleges had players that were training beach only. Our sport was finally getting momentum that many of us were hoping would carry it back to it's heyday. Professional players have been taking the time over the last month to reach out to kids playing the sport to connect with them. Some truly incredible things had been happening. Now imagine what the trickle down effect that canceling NCAA programs would have on the sport.
In a Zoom call with Misty May-Treanor yesterday, one of the girls asked who she looked up to when she was playing the sport. Sarah Sponcil was asked the same question on our zoom call. America has, since I was young anyway, always had a "be like Mike" vision. All of us who are athletes have someone that we looked up to and tried to emulate. Misty had players she loved to watch, Sarah grew up watching Misty play. This new generation of players is growing up watching Sarah play. We hear comparisons in sport all the time about, "He's the next Michael Jordan", or "She's the next Misty May-Treanor". Some of the coolest feelings we have when we watch commercials about sports are the little kid seeing their hero playing their sport and doing something cool and then going out in the yard and spending hours trying to do it. I can't count the number of times as a kid that I would narrate my own last second shot in the driveway, "Three... Two... One... He shoots, he scores!" I would run down the driveway with my hands in the air like I had just won the NBA championship.
What if all of a sudden those kids didn't have those heroes to look up to in their sport? What if all of a sudden because there was no feeder program, the sport of professional beach volleyball no longer existed? What if those little girls like Sarah Sponcil never got the chance to see the American flag draped around Misty and Kerri's shoulders? What if they never got to feel the goosebumps of the national anthem playing as they stood atop the medal stand representing ALL of us who play their sport? What if we never got to feel that pride that formed our own dream of being on that stand some day? What if there were no volleyball challenges floating around social media where kids got to feel like they were trying to do some of the same things the pro's do?
I realize that there are more important things in life than sports and that this pandemic is incredibly serious. I implore you, however, to help find a way to keep our sport going. I have attached a link to this post (in #2). I hope that if you read this you will do two things.
1. Share this post with as many people as you can to try to help get the importance of saving our sport out there.
2. Sign the petition in the link to try to make this happen.
I want to be able to help kids for years to come to pursue their dreams. I want to be able to help create opportunities over and over and over for kids to play the sport that has given me so much in life. I hope you will join me in trying to help this to continue. We CAN make a difference. The petition to give another year of eligibility to athletes affected by this pandemic was a success and this one can be too!!!