‘It was euphoria’: Why UHSAA sanctioned boys volleyball as 5th new sport since 2016
Salt Lake City, UT (March 27, 2022) — Duke Mossman couldn’t believe the words that were being said even as he sat in the room with the Utah High School Activities Association board of trustees Thursday.It was, in some ways, inevitable; and in others, unexpected, enough to drive the club volleyball coach at Wasatch High to the verge of tears.
Finally, after beginning an odyssey that began when his senior son was in eighth grade to try to get boys volleyball sanctioned by the state’s high school activities association, the day had finally arrived.
Boys volleyball will become the 10th championship to be played in the spring when it begins play in the 2023-24 academic year. The UHSAA says teams will begin play in the spring, making 44 trophies across all classifications awarded that season.
After the Utah Boys Volleyball Association (UBVA) and its community had been denied three or four times for various reasons, the UHSAA admitted the fifth new sports since the 2016-17 academic year under the association’s emerging sports policy.
“I’ve been at it for so long that I almost didn’t expect it,” Mossman said. “Then it was euphoria; I almost broke into tears, I was so happy.
“I have so many kids that I’ve coached, and hopefully they will do some really good things with this.”
In many ways, the timing was perfect for boys volleyball to join the ranks of sanctioned sports. According to numbers presented by the UBVA to the board of trustees, 122 teams representing 64 UHSAA member schools participate in club leagues across the state, from Davis and Weber counties in the north through Salt Lake and Utah counties and down to a growing Washington County sector in Southern Utah.
That’s up 13% from last year, 54% since 2019 and nearly five times the 24 clubs that were in play in 2015 when the UBVA was founded. Most of them are led by volunteer head coaches, where 53% of programs pay their respective schools for gym time to play and practice.
Boys volleyball is one of the largest club sports in the state. Mossman said 1,563 boys are registered to play this spring, with participation fees ranging from $90 to $435 per family and most under the high school they attend. In 6A, three of the four regions host teams assigned to each school, and all but Cyprus and Roy in Region 2 have players on campus that come together in two or more schools to field a team.
The numbers are similar in 5A, where just seven schools don’t field a full team, and those seven have at least four players registered on campus. 3A and 4A are more mixed, while rural schools in Class 1A and 2A see the lowest participation rates (though North Sanpete and Manti have competed in the Utah Valley league).
“As they did their research, they saw we had the teams, we had the players, and it wasn’t just a couple of people trying to get volleyball into high schools,” said Kevin Willett, league director of the Utah Valley Boys High School Volleyball League who sits on the board for the UBVA. “It just makes sense (now) to get the budgets in place, schedules, regional alignment; there’s a lot of stuff that will go into getting started. But I think two years makes sense … the volleyball community is ready for it. They’re excited that it’s happening.”
Volleyball is a game that appeals to teenagers who don’t always fit into the traditional football-basketball-baseball mode, Willett said, and has a national appeal. According to National Federation of High School Sports participation statistics from the 2018-19 school year, 25 states had already sanctioned boys volleyball, while Minnesota and Indiana will vote on sanctioning in May.
In making the jump from the club ranks to sanctioned sport, boys volleyball will be the fifth addition to the UHSAA championship program since 2016, joining boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, girls wrestling and competitive cheerleading, which will hold its first sanctioned state championship in the 2022-23 school year.
“We’re very excited about seeing a new group of kids get to compete for a Utah state championship under our umbrella,” UHSAA assistant director Jon Oglesby told the Standard-Examiner. “We think it’s going to be a positive addition to the association’s sanctioned activities and will be a good thing for kids moving forward.”
Club coaches and parents went to the board as far back as May 2020 to gain sanctioning, but the discussion was tabled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A year later, a motion to sanction the sport failed by an 8-5 count.
So Mossman, other coaches and the rest of the community turned to the internet. They set up a petition to sanction the sport on change.org that drew more than 10,300 signatures. They also gathered support from local politicians, including Rep. Kera Birkeland and Rep. Norm Thurston, as well as prominent figures in the collegiate game, such as BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe and men’s volleyball coach Shawn Olmstead.
Perhaps the biggest sign of support, however, came from respect of the highest ranks. Springville High recently debuted in the USA Today/American Volleyball Coaches Association boys volleyball Super 25 at No. 22. And John Speraw, head coach of the U.S. men’s national team and UCLA, also wrote to the board to implore sanctioning.
“The pandemic has made the last two and a half years difficult for many of us, but as a coach and a father, they have reinforced some undeniable truths for me,” wrote Speraw in an email shared with KSL.com. “Young people benefit from being active and engaged in group activities and team sports teaches our young people important lessons about life, such as the value of hard work and sacrificing for the common good.
“I am enthusiastically supportive of any opportunity we can offer to both increase activities and avenues to learn these life lessons. I believe boys’ high school volleyball can and should be one of those high school activities that your organization sanctions and supports.”
USA Volleyball also recently selected Salt Lake City to host the boys volleyball national championships in 2023. BYU is the only Division I men’s volleyball team in the state, but Willett hopes the growth in the high school games inspires other colleges locally and regionally to consider adding the sport — or bring national universities to the state’s borders to mine recruits.
“We’ve already produced some of the best players in the nation, national team selections and professional volleyball players,” said Willett, referencing former Provo High and BYU star Ben Patch, among others. “This is just going to give us that opportunity to showcase and develop those players a lot more, and give a lot of colleges who wouldn’t normally look at this area a new recruiting footprint for their teams.”