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Arizona and Hawaii Introduce High School Sand Volleyball, Surfing

Athletes in Hawaii and Arizona will soon be taking their game to the beach - well, in Hawaii, anyway.

In the 50th state, at least, interest in interscholastic surfing is on the rise. (Image © Bobby Schutz/Istockphoto.com)In the 50th state, at least, interest in interscholastic surfing is on the rise. (Image © Bobby Schutz/Istockphoto.com)
 

Athletes in Hawaii and Arizona will soon be taking their game to the beach - well, in Hawaii, anyway. Though sand volleyball got its start on beaches, Arizona makes up for lack of coastline with plenty of sand, a primary requirement for the sport. In mid-October, weeks after Hawaii's Department of Education voted to make surfing an officially sanctioned sport by 2013, the Arizona Interscholastic Association's executive board voted to move forward with a girls' sand volleyball pilot program next spring, the first introduction of either sport at the high school level.

"It's an enormous deal for us," Dave Williams, USA Volleyball's managing director of beach programs, told USA Today. "It's as big as the colleges adding sand volleyball."

The Arizona Region of USA Volleyball has been working closely with the AIA since 2009 to develop the program proposal and will continue to offer support as the program starts up this spring with anywhere from eight to 32 teams. "All of the initial response has been very positive and I think we're going to see significant growth in this emerging sport," says AIA associate athletic executive director Chuck Schmidt.

With the NCAA's recent decision to include sand volleyball at the collegiate level, Arizona is opening the door to new competition opportunities for high school student-athletes. The addition also gives school districts another option for Title IX compliance, an issue with which many districts in Arizona are still struggling.

"The goal of high school and various state associations is to provide opportunities for kids to participate," says Schmidt. "The more opportunities we provide for kids to participate, the research would suggest that kids are more likely to have success and stay out of trouble."

It seems only natural - and even surprising that it hadn't happened already - that Hawaii, the birthplace of modern surfing and home to some of the best surfers and surfing beaches in the world, should make the sport a part of its interscholastic programs. In fact, the program has been in the works for a few years. The Board of Education voted to add surfing in 2004 and began developing policies and guidelines. But, as is the case with so many high school activities throughout the country, funding for the program, estimated to cost the DOE $150,000 the first year, simply wasn't there.

"One of our board members pledged that they could get private funding," says Raymond Fujino, the DOE's acting educational specialist. "The board is under the understanding that the funding will not be in addition to anything we have in our budget. That's why we're going ahead with it."

One of the major concerns when adding a new sport is finding funding without negatively impacting existing sports. Though surfing is relatively low-cost when it comes to equipment and facilities, insurance and tournament transportation costs would likely cause significant hits to funding for other programs. The AIA also grappled with the money issue, but part of the appeal of sand volleyball is its low cost compared to other sports. The equipment required is minimal, and while most schools don't have their own sand volleyball courts, they don't need them.

"There are sand volleyball venues throughout the state," says Schmidt. "Not necessarily at the schools, but some have them." Victory Lanes Sports Park near Phoenix has offered to waive court costs for practices and matches during the first year to help the program get started, and schools will also be getting a little help from USA Volleyball's Arizona Region, which will assist in the training of officials and help with funding of a state tournament in April and individual tournament management.

Surfing has existed on the club level for years, with schools in Hawaii and along both the East and West Coasts hosting club teams that compete independently as members of the National Scholastic Surfing Association, and like Arizona, the Hawaii DOE and BOE will be getting a lot of help from club participants. The board plans to work closely with existing club programs and surfing organizations to adapt their rules, policies and safety procedures for use at the high school level. "Now we're down to the details a little bit more," says Fujino. "It's unknown territory for us as athletic administrators because none of us has experience running surf meets. We're grateful for the people who are involved in that arena that are willing to help us develop the competition rules."

Though surfing won't begin until the spring of 2013, all of the details need to be worked out by the spring of 2012 to give schools time to decide whether they will participate and to begin work on their own programs. Concerns about surfer safety and swimming ability, certification, water conditions, liability and more must all be carefully addressed before the program begins. Arizona's sand volleyball program faced similar scrutiny from the AIA, but the thoroughly planned proposal was ready for any question. The biggest concern raised was whether the girls would play in swimsuits, the standard beach volleyball uniform. "Swimsuits were never even an option," Schmidt says. "The girls will be able to wear sleeveless shirts and Spandex uniform shorts."

Arizona and Hawaii will be taking their cues from club programs, but in a few years, they may serve as examples for other states interested in adapting new sports.

"Maybe New Mexico and California will be keeping a close eye on Arizona's success," says John Gillis, an assistant director of the National Federation of State High School Associations. "And based on that, they may pick it up in a couple of years. You've got to start somewhere."

Though few new sports have been introduced in recent years, high school athletics participation has increased for 22 consecutive years, Gillis says. "It's not just the mainstream sports anymore. Young people are involved in all sorts of things these days, and I think the state associations are being responsive to that."

Should the sand volleyball program turn out to be a success, Schmidt says the AIA will consider working to add other sports in the future, as well. "Any time we can offer opportunities that fit the needs of the schools, I think the board is always open to discussion about how to roll them out."

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