With more than 1,400 participants and 55 teams playing in a club league this spring, boys' volleyball is a popular sport in Minnesota. But to Minnesota educators, just not quite popular enough.
The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) Representative Assembly met Tuesday to vote on officially sanctioning the sport. A two-thirds majority — 32 votes — was necessary for approval.
“All these kids just got told they don't matter. This means something to them. That's what they heard.”
The final vote was 31 in favor, 17 opposed.
"Obviously, it's disappointing. We were so close," said St. Paul Como Park athletic director Koua Yang, a first-generation Hmong immigrant who spoke to the assembly and the large group of supporters at the Marriott West in Brooklyn Park. "It's not about pitting one sport against another. It's about more opportunity for kids."
After falling two votes short of approval in 2021, members of the Minnesota Boys High School Volleyball Association refocused their efforts. They attempted to address the concerns of those who had voted against the proposal and worked to get the proposal before the assembly again this year.
"We thought we had it this year," said Krista Flemming of Shakopee, an association director. "We answered all of their questions, but it seems like they didn't listen."
Among the reasons cited for voting no were uncertainty about the time of year for the season, fall or spring. The proposal was initially intended for a spring season to take advantage of gyms that may be unused, but many administrators were reluctant to give up limited space in facilities that are often in high demand in March and April because of poor spring weather. The MSHSL committed to creating a task force to determine the correct time for the season.
“If it's just a club, people think you can quit easily, you don't really learn anything. Being sanctioned helps you stay motivated and do better in school.”
Other issues included cost, of which athletic directors are always mindful, availability of officials and if adding boys' volleyball would force additional moves to accommodate Title IX gender equity requirements.
The strongest supporting argument in favor of sanctioning boys' volleyball arose from its popularity, with more than 1,400 playing in the boys' volleyball club league this spring, and particularly with members of Minnesota's Asian community. Forty-one percent of the boys playing volleyball identify as Asian, a community with an entrenched passion for volleyball.
Park Center senior O'Nell Moua had never played high school sports until joining the boys' volleyball club team a year ago. He believes that the sport getting sanctioned is important to help students stay invested in their school.
"If it's just a club, people think you can quit easily, you don't really learn anything," Moua said. "Being sanctioned helps you stay motivated and do better in school. A lot of us never played a sport before. This is heartbreaking."
Yang, who credited athletics with helping him assimilate when he emigrated in 1980, expects many in the Asian community feel the same.
"I know they had been looking to feel like they belong," he said. "[Volleyball] is one of the few sports that we identify with and that hits close to home. I feel the pain for our community, I feel the pain for the boys. They've been waiting for this opportunity and to be denied again is disheartening."
Said Flemming, "All these kids just got told they don't matter. This means something to them. That's what they heard."
MSHSL Executive Director Erich Martens remained upbeat, despite the unexpected outcome.
"We saw great representation here today and we're seeing more and more the support for boys' volleyball is growing," Martens said. "Although it didn't get over the finish line today, we're seeing that it continues to go forward and we expect that to continue."
- The assembly also voted unanimously to a wording change to Bylaw 110, which defines how long a student-athlete has eligibility. Now, a student-athlete who plays a sport in seventh or eighth grade can take a year away from athletics before ninth grade and still retain full eligibility.