The Ohio High School Athletic Association announced in January that it will sanction boys volleyball for the 2022-2023 school year.
Indiana took a big step in that direction May 2. According to the Indianapolis Star, the Indiana High School Athletic Association recognized the game as an emerging sport, which means it will provide backing with an eye toward it becoming officially recognized when 50 percent of the membership is participating.
Will Michigan be the next Midwest-based state to add boys volleyball as a sanctioned sport? That’s the goal, according to Aaron Smaka, who helped create Michigan Boys Volleyball.
“I think this sport has that kind of potential because of how easy it would be for schools to add this sport,” said Smaka, who coaches Grand Haven’s girls volleyball and is an assistant boys coach. “The team size is relatively small with 10 to 12 kids on most teams and the rate that these guys have been able to self-promote and grow the participation numbers at each school has been amazing.
“We still need to continue to grow the numbers, and in everything we’re doing, we’re trying to emulate what the MHSAA would do. Even in terms of rules and player eligibility, we really want this to look, act and feel like an MHSAA sport, and that’s really our goal.”
Michigan boys volleyball was introduced at the high school level in 2018 and featured four schools. That number has ballooned to 37 this spring, and that growth has caught the attention of the MHSAA.
“It has been pretty difficult not to notice how quickly it has grown,” MHSAA communications director Geoff Kimmerly said. “I can’t remember a sport that isn’t under our current umbrella growing as fast as boys volleyball seems to be growing over these last five years. Absolutely, it is something on our radar.
“I’m not in position where I can say this is on its way to becoming a sanctioned sport. I don’t think we are at that stage. But absolutely, we have noticed the growth and are keeping an eye on that and keeping an eye on how much interest there is for it. We are always on the lookout for what students are interested in and where those trends might be.”
Kimmerly said 10 percent of the MHSAA’s schools must offer a sport for it to be considered, estimating that would mean volleyball would need 60-to-70 schools playing the game for consideration can begin. Grand Rapids Christian athletic director Jason Heerema, who created Michigan Boys Volleyball, said reaching that percentage in 2023 might be overly optimistic, but 2024 is a realistic possibility.
Title IX compliance also would require attention since the number of boys and girls sports offered must be equal.
“There have been some who have made the argument that since we have added a girls individual wrestling tournament, that counts as one more (girls sport),” Kimmerly said. “But I think that there are some who also would say that adding the girls wrestling division might be an expansion of our current wrestling because we had girls competing during wrestling season.
“But we are just not that far into the conversation at this point. As it approaches, I’m sure we will talk about the girls wrestling factor more or about another sport because we will certainly keep our number of sports even on both sides.”
There also is a concern that schools will be spreading themselves too thin when it comes to student-athletes if another spring sport is added. Schools can currently offer baseball, track, golf and lacrosse when it comes to MHSAA boys sanctioned spring sports, with Michigan’s Upper Peninsula offering tennis, too.
“For smaller schools, it is definitely a concern,” Heerema said. “The bigger schools, finding 10 or 12 kids to play on a volleyball team, that’s not hard to do at all. If you are in a school with 200-to-300, it might be harder.
“But then again, a lot of the smaller schools don’t offer track, lacrosse and golf. They already have girls volleyball, though, so you have the gym and the equipment. Potter’s House has a team, Covenant Christian has a team. It is a great fit for them. Schools are adding a sport that doesn’t cost them hardly any money at all, and you get more use out of the existing facilities and the equipment that you have.”
Smaka said Grand Haven student-athletes went classroom to classroom recruiting volleyball players, and it has paid off. The Buccaneers offer junior varsity and middle school teams.
“It’s a niche sport right now and I think there are a lot of kids that will play the sport that maybe don’t play other sports,” Smaka said. “You’re also going to have other kids like Tucker (Kooi), Cole (Lachmann) and Grant (Englesman), who are already varsity athletes in other sports. I think it’s a really nice mix of athletes, personalities and backgrounds and it creates a different atmosphere because of that.”
Contact Jason Heerema at [email protected] for more information.