Volleyball Team Breaks Racial Barriers

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Abilene Reporter-News (Texas)


Diversity is something we deal with on a regular basis, whether it's at school, at work or even when you go out to eat.

One of the places that have stayed relatively segregated is sports.

American athletes who play sports such as hockey, tennis or golf have been predominately Caucasian, while sports such as basketball and football increasingly have had more African-American athletes.

This trend is especially true in the NCAA. However, McMurry's volleyball team this season may be the opposite of what most people would picture as the typical volleyball team.

Of the 18 players listed on the team's roster, 12 can be identified as being black or at least partially black. That ratio represents two-thirds of the team.

Nationally, across the NCAA's three divisions, only 10 percent of all women's volleyball players are African-American.

Only 8 percent of that number are competing at predominantly white institutions (also known as PWIs).

That makes McMurry's roster especially noticeable.

Is club volleyball a barrier?

One of the best and easiest way to improve your skills as a volleyball player and be seen by hundreds of college coaches is to join a club program.

Many coaches believe that the earlier an athlete is exposed to a sport and taught the fundamentals of the game the better they become at a young age.

This fact also is true for sports such as basketball, baseball and many other sports because many college coaches do most of their recruiting during the summer when schools are out.

However, one of the drawbacks of playing club volleyball is that it can be extremely expensive, sometimes costing upward of $4,000 per season. That doesn't include travel to games and practices.

The increasing cost of participation is also a likely reason more African-American girls are not playing volleyball.

"If you really want to talk about getting blacks in volleyball, I don't think you've got enough time in the day," Robert Brown, Dallas Premier 18 volleyball coach, said in a 2014 interview with the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. "(Club ball) is a predominately white league where we don't see a lot of diversity,"

For many African-American girls who live in low-income neighborhoods, the idea of playing club volleyball just isn't an option when their parents can't afford to pay.

However, the McMurry Lady War Hawks volleyball team has six African-American women who played club volleyball. The other six did not.

Through my eyes

My youngest sister, Danielle, has played volleyball since she was 11 and on most of her teams, she's been one of two African-American players if not the only one. That's something I couldn't relate to as a basketball player because racial lines are essentially the opposite in that sport.

Most of the teams I played on rarely had a Caucasian player. In fact, I never played with more than one Caucasian teammate until I came to Texas to play at St. Edward's University, a Catholic private school in Austin.

My sister said the hardest thing for her to get used to was some of the cultural differences, such as teammates asking about her hair, or where she lived, or the social lingo she often used.

Danielle said she noticed at a young age, that if volleyball teams had just one African-American girl on its roster, she almost always played middle blocker (something Danielle did until she was 14).

For most teams, the middle blocker is a position played by a strong, aggressive and defensive-minded player. However, the position, to some, doesn't require a lot of intellect or volleyball IQ.

That notion is somewhat like the lack of African-American quarterbacks in the NFL.

It's viewpoint that is being challenged.

Lady War Hawks soaring

The Lady War Hawks team has gone against the grain in the volleyball world and have had an excellent season at 9-0 entering Friday's match against Sul Ross in Alpine.

While coach Cammie Petree, who is Caucasian, acknowledges the racial difference in her team compared most teams that McMurry faces, she says she personally loves all her girls as if they were her own.

"I didn't go out specifically recruiting black girls, but I do recruit certain skill sets and certain characteristics," Petree said. "I've been here a long time, and sometimes we have more black players and sometimes we don't. But I love the idea that we have so much diversity on our campus and on our team."

Petree also said her players often joke with her saying she loves black people more than whites, but Petree simply laughs and says, "God loves us all the same, so why should I be any different."

"What's important to me isn't what our players look like, it's how they treat people, and how they play together," Petree said.

While racial inequality has become a hot-button topic that most people try to avoid, it's nice to see a team able to look beyond the racial norms of their sport and be successful anyway.

Quinton D. Lilley

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September 16, 2018


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