Arizona is the First State to Hit the Beach with Volleyball


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by Jim Halley, USA TODAY 


The Arizona Interscholastic Association just drew a line in the sand. The AIA's executive board has approved a pilot program for girls sand volleyball, becoming the first state high school association to do so.


Arizona is the first state high school association to try sand volleyball as a pilot program.


"It's an enormous deal for us," said Dave Williams, USA Volleyball's managing director of beach programs. "It's as big as the colleges adding sand volleyball (which the NCAA approved for Division II last year and this year for Division I). It's a low cost-of-entry sport for anyone, and it's a good sport for cross-training."


Eric Hodgson, outreach director of the Arizona region of USA Volleyball, said the push for adding sand volleyball began a year ago.


"The idea was simple," Hodgson said. "Once the colleges added sand volleyball, this will be a way to get our girls not only seen, but perhaps scholarships."


The sport at the high school and college levels is called sand volleyball, not beach volleyball, because many states do not have beaches. It was chosen because it won't cost as much as other sports to run, AIA associate athletic executive director Chuck Schmidt told The (Phoenix) Arizona Republic. The pilot program will need at least eight schools and would accommodate as many as 32. Each team will have five two-player teams, with two alternates.


Indoor volleyball is the third highest participatory sport for high school girls, behind basketball and track and field, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations' annual survey.


Hodgson said the AIA stipulated that the uniform the athletes will wear is typical of indoor volleyball, with sleeveless shirts and spandex shorts, not the bikinis worn by pro beach volleyball players.


Wayne Sponcil is assistant volleyball coach at Veritas Prep in Phoenix. His daughter Sarah, is a sophomore setter for Veritas and played for a USA Volleyball select indoor team this past summer. He said his daughter's love of beach volleyball has made her a better indoor player.


"If they play sand volleyball and they can step onto a hard court, they can play twice as good," Sponcil said. "You play sand volleyball and you have to know where the other people are. It makes you more aware of what's going on."


The move could help some Arizona school districts meet the requirements of Title IX, a federal law banning gender discrimination in schools.


"We do not have a proportionality equivalent to what we should be seeing in high school sports in Arizona," Schmidt told the Republic. "The number of girls participating is about 10% different (from girls in the general high school population). The goal is to be within 2%."


The season would start in early February and end in April with an eight-team state tournament.


Sponcil said it might be difficult to get enough girls who are qualified and willing to play sand volleyball, which requires a higher fitness level than its indoor equivalent.


"I don't know how it will play out," Sponcil said. "Even the colleges are having a hard time setting it up."


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