Not even a last-minute scramble to replace stolen jerseys could derail McLean High School’s boys’ volleyball team from its path to a championship.
The 10-player team won the Northern Virginia High School Boys Volleyball League playoffs with two 25-point sets on Oct. 28, beating a Lake Braddock Secondary School team to cap off a perfect 17-0 season.
John Tamashiro, head coach for the McLean team, attributes its success to a combination of luck, skill, team chemistry and sheer perseverance, as players battled through tough competitors, injuries and other obstacles, including the theft of required jerseys the night before a match.
“I personally have been playing the sport a long time, and you can always have that cocky guy on the team that brings down the team,” Tamashiro told FFXnow. “We didn’t have any of that this year, and I think that was the main thing that all these boys had good personalities and were very talented, and so I think we need that combination to do what we did.”
Even as the McLean team celebrates its championship, the Northern Virginia High School Boys Volleyball League (NVHSVL) has its sights set on an even bigger prize: inclusion in Fairfax County Public Schools as an official varsity sport.
Though the Virginia High School League supports varsity boys’ volleyball, FCPS dropped the sport as a student activity in the early 2000s, according to NVHSBVL organizers.
“Fairfax County Public Schools started an eight-team, club-level program [around 2004], hoping that it would grow in popularity and become a varsity sport,” Michael Markovic said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t grow and the club-level league was canceled by FCPS.”
Supporters instead launched the Northern Virginia High School Boys’ Volleyball League, which offer programs for high school and middle and elementary school students in Fairfax County, Arlington, Loudoun and Alexandria.
The teams are coached by volunteers and take the names of specific schools, though not all players have to attend that school. The McLean team, for example, includes a private school student and two players from the Springfield area, along with several McLean High School students, according to Tamashiro.
The league had tried to regain club status for boys’ volleyball in Northern Virginia about 10 years ago, but the region’s student activities directors failed to get enough high schools to sign on, NVHSBVL director Rob Baily says.
A decade later, momentum for volleyball — which is already available in FCPS for girls — has grown nationwide to the point where league leaders believe that official, school-sanctioned teams for boys would now be successful.
The number of male students participating in high school volleyball has grown by 40% since 2017, making it the fastest growing high school sport in the U.S., according to USA Volleyball CEO Jamie Davis.
Interest has grown locally as well, according to the NVHSBVL, which says participation has more than doubled since 2012. The league’s 2023 fall season involved a record 49 teams totaling more than 500 players, compared to just 12 teams when Markovic joined in 2012.
“Forty-nine teams is a lot of schools that would potentially have volleyball programs now that they don’t have right now,” Tamashiro said. “So, basically…this league is really the equivalent of the high school boys volleyball league in school sports.”
Gaining varsity status would give players consistent access to school gyms and equipment, including poles and nets, Baily says. The league currently reserves space through FCPS’ community use program, which lets outside groups use school facilities when they’re available.
He says a school-sanctioned program would also boost participation by “less advantaged boys,” since they won’t face as many out-of-pocket fees or need to arrange their own transportation to matches.
“It provides a great non-contact alternative to football and as a varsity sport it will create more student-athletes with better time management and healthier lifestyles,” Baily said.
FCPS didn’t comment by press time, but according to Baily, Superintendent Michelle Reid has asked to see data showing current registration and future interest by the end of November so varsity boys’ volleyball could be considered for her next budget proposal, which will be released on Jan. 25.
Regardless of what happens with the sport’s status in FCPS, Tamashiro anticipates 2024 will be another strong season for the McLean High team, which only had two seniors who will graduate this school year.
“It was a crazy, crazy season,” Tamashiro said. “But again, we got a lot of talented boys. A lot of them are going to play at the next level. A lot of them will end up playing in college.”
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