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On Friday (Sept. 6, 2019) Morehouse College officially announced the addition of men’s volleyball for the 2020-21 academic year. The occasion brought to mind a story from the 2008 Olympic Games.
UCLA and Olympic coach John Speraw, representing First Point Volleyball Foundation at Friday’s ceremony, recalled on the bus ride after winning a gold medal in Beijing, setter Lloy Ball asked how the sport can grow nationwide.
Morehouse’s addition is a tentpole in just such an effort. Fellow Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference members Benedict, Central State, Kentucky State, and Paine will also launch new programs, as well as a sixth university to be named later.
The historic expansion is the result of a combined $600,000 investment from First Point Volleyball Foundation, and $400,000 from USA Volleyball.
“Your efforts today at Morehouse, and the efforts that the SIAC is adding men’s volleyball is making our sport better,” Speraw said at the press conference in Atlanta. “It took a lot of courage and bold leadership to go forward and do this.”
Morehouse leadership wasn’t aiming just to expand its athletic department, though. The addition of men’s volleyball, specifically, is the result of its fit within the fabric of the university, said Morehouse College president Dr. David Thomas.
“Some people have asked me, ‘why volleyball?,’” he said. “It starts with the idea that what we do here at Morehouse College in our athletic program is to develop scholar-athletes. Volleyball to me represents a sport where we become even more attractive to an even broader group of individuals who have the possibility to be scholar-athletes here at Morehouse College.”
Thomas said his own exposure to the sport was somewhat limited, mostly to his daughter playing in high school. But in that, he gleaned an important observation in the decision to add it at Morehouse.
“What struck me...when individuals are making a choice to go to school, who want to play volleyball, they don’t start with ‘what are my chances to go to the pros?’ They start with ‘where can I go and have a great experience playing volleyball, but also have a great opportunity structure?',” he said.
Volleyball bolstering the school’s academic profile is a two-way street, too. Athletic director Javarro Edwards called it a “seat at the table” for Maroon Tigers sports in the “academically driven institution.”
Likewise, the SIAC gains a seat at the table with the growth of men’s volleyball. Universities in the West, particularly California, have long dominated the sport on the college landscape. Half of the most recent NCAA Championship field featured California schools, with a fourth program, Hawaii, also coming from the Pacific.
Morehouse and the SIAC give representation in the South. And, with the addition of HBCU members, is intended to help expand the sport’s exclusion.
Speraw drew the parallel to one of the most famous alumni where he coaches, Jackie Robinson, a four-sport athlete at UCLA.
“Volleyball’s a sport for all ages, all genders, all races, and all socio-economic backgrounds,” USA Volleyball CEO Jamie Davis said.