Pro Volleyball Tour Boosts H.S. Programs

By Staff

Athletic Management, 15.4, June/July 2003, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1504/wuvolleyball.htm

Three years ago, while most high school teams were wondering whether to do a candy sale or car wash, Jennifer Bolger, Head Volleyball Coach at McLean (Va.) High School, was thinking more along the lines of David Stern. As a fund-raiser for her own and other area teams, she created the Washington D.C. Pro Women’s Volleyball Tour, which is currently playing its second season.

High schools that sign on host matches between two teams of post-college all-stars, and most have raised between $500 and $1,000 for the night. Just as important, the tour is giving the sport a boost in many ways.

“Other people had talked about putting a pro tour together, but no one had come up with the right format,” Bolger says. “So we decided to do the tour as a fund-raiser for the kids.”

Bolger contacted American University Head Coach Barry Goldberg, who volunteered to coach the pro teams. “I wanted to give the former college players in the area a chance to keep playing in a competitive situation,” Goldberg says. “I also thought it was a good way to promote the sport in the area.”

To arrange tour stops, Bolger asked area high school athletic directors if their volleyball teams would be willing to sell tickets. They needed to guarantee that they would sell at least 100 six-dollar tickets for each match at their school. “The athletic directors were fighting over the dates,” she says.

In its first season, the tour visited 11 schools between mid-March and mid-May 2002, with most of the matches held on Monday nights and a few on Fridays and Saturdays. “We decided to do it during the spring when the kids had time to attend,” Bolger says. “In the fall, they would be rushing off to their own practices and matches.”

Last year, most of the high schools hit the 100-ticket mark, with some selling over 150 tickets. “When my team at McLean hosted, we made $738 for a couple hours of work,” Bolger says, “which is better than a car wash.”

Bolger was able to sign up several sponsors for the tour. Among them are Active Ankle, which provided $1,000 for liability insurance and a pair of braces for a skill contest winner at each school; Subway and Dasani Water, which donated subs and bottled water for the pro players and for the kids to sell at matches; Cassel’s Sports and Awards, which provided the uniforms; Carrabba’s Italian Grill, which offered gift certificates to compensate the referees; and Sports Imports, which purchased ad space in the match programs.

“As long as they gave us cash or in-kind gifts of $1,000 or more, we put their logo on the uniform and program,” Bolger says.

Bolger recruited players by sending an e-mail to USA Volleyball Chesapeake Region members. “We weren’t sure what the talent pool was like, but we had 40 people show up to our February tryouts,” she says. “We picked a total of 20 players, and then we mixed them up on two teams each week.”

The gate was split between the high school teams and the pro players, with the members of the winning team earning more than the losers. Ten-dollar bonuses were also given to the kill, dig, and assist leaders each night.

Jaime Pryor, Head Volleyball Coach at Middletown (Md.) High School and also a pro tour player, arranged for her school to host a match in April. “I wanted to show not only my high school players but other players, coaches, and parents the high level at which volleyball can be played,” she says. “Many people in our area have not seen higher level volleyball, so they really do not know how the game should look. I also wanted to spark more interest in our local middle school and high school athletes to participate in volleyball. Of course, the fund-raising aspect of the pro tour made it possible to get more of my players and parents involved.”

Dave Becker, Head Volleyball Coach at Fairfax (Va.) High School, was also attracted by the event’s fund-raising potential, so he arranged for a tour stop this March. “This area has been set back the last couple of fall seasons because of the September 11 and the sniper shootings,” he says. “Games were canceled in many sports in the region and revenue was lost. Hosting the pro match was another means to help get some of it back.”

Becker says coordinating volunteers to run the concession stands and getting the kids to sell the tickets took a bit of effort. But he was able to convince his school administrators to waive the facility user fee, and the match ended up raising around $800 for the Fairfax volleyball team.

“We made more than I thought we would because of the large turnout at the gate,” he says. “We ended up selling a total of about 170 tickets, which I think was pretty good. And selling the donated Subway subs and Dasani bottled water helped bring in additional revenue.”

High school players also enjoyed participating in a question-and-answer session with the pro players after each match. “The kids and fans got to ask the players about their high school careers, how they got their scholarships, the types of training they did, and the jobs they had pursued after graduation,” Goldberg says.

“Another great side effect of the tour was getting the pro players involved with coaching high school and club teams,” Bolger says. “Two of the players helped me coach my varsity team last year, and two more have volunteered to help coach my kids during the club season.”

Involvement from former players will only help the sport to grow, according to Goldberg. “There’s a shortage of coaches throughout the country,” he says. “Especially in the Northeast, volleyball coaching slots are often filled by anyone who will take them rather than someone who has the passion and knowledge to make it go. We’re hoping more former players become high school coaches.”

Pryor is a case in point. “It is great to go out and play hard and have a blast competing with a group of talented players who love the game as much as I do,” she says. “It’s also fabulous to be able to show this love of the game to young athletes and to give them a sense where it can take them.”

For more information on the Washington D.C. Pro Women’s Volleyball Tour, go to www.geocities.com/dcprovb.