Financial inequity in high school volleyball

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Siena Urquiza ‘23

Varsity volleyball and San Gabriel Elite setter, Emily Smith ‘23, rallies with one of the junior varsity liberos who is an ex-San Gabriel Elite player, Ellamae Fortin ‘23.

By Siena Urquiza, Flintridge Sacred Heart

It’s 2017, and I’m 13. As I walk into my first-ever volleyball tryout, the sound of shoes squeaking and volleyballs thudding on the ground echoes around me. One of the team volunteers hands me a bright teal tryout jersey with a number written in neon pink and the San Gabriel Elite (SG Elite) volleyball logo on it. I head onto the court, filled with anticipation and nerves, ready to have the best tryout of my life. From the beginning of warmups to the service line and to the hitting drills, the level of volleyball played and taught is better than that at any program I had ever before experienced. As the tryout comes to an end and I step off the court, I feel the most on top of my game I have ever been.

As I start my stretches later that night at home, my mom walks into my room. She begins to apologize and tells me that I won’t be able to play with SG Elite’s volleyball program. My mom explains how she had recently received an email from the owner telling her that no financial assistance would be offered at that time.

I learned more in one SG Elite tryout than I had learned during one season on my middle school’s volleyball team. I wanted to play for SG Elite because I love to play volleyball. I also wanted to play club so that I would become good enough to play in high school on the varsity team. This year at Flintridge Sacred Heart, I am a junior and made the junior varsity team. I am athletic and recognize that there are people who have more athleticism than me. I do think, though, that if my parents had been able to pay for club, I would have had a better chance at making varsity this year at FSH.

Although athleticism is a prominent factor when it comes to advancement in volleyball, so are finances. Prices vary from club to club. For Beach Cities, a club in Manhattan Beach, the travel team’s price is $6,000 per season. For SG Elite, the club I tried out for, non-travel teams cost around $3,400 for one season, and travel teams are upwards of $4,800.

Both Tolog athletes and FSH administrators agree that playing club is close to essential to make varsity. Currently, there is only one player at FSH on the varsity team who does not have club volleyball experience.

Given how expensive club volleyball is, the necessity to play club in order to make varsity presents an equity issue for FSH, as the necessity to play club gives a major advantage to affluent students.

“If I had only played in middle school and high school, I probably wouldn’t have made varsity at all this year,” Emily Smith ‘23, a first-year varsity member who has done club volleyball since the fifth grade, said.

Smith also pays for private lessons where she is individually coached by a volleyball trainer.

“On top of club, I also do private lessons once a week which is about $80-$100 [per session],” Smith said.

Administrators at FSH are aware that club volleyball experience is a key factor when it comes to making the varsity team.

“I can see talent requirements as being a prerequisite for signing on varsity. But my question is: how can a student achieve the level required to play varsity level without necessarily playing club?” Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction Mrs. Sherrie Singer said.

Many of the JV volleyball players at FSH also view club experience as essential to getting on varsity.

“My only volleyball experience was at my middle school, St. Bede, and here at FSHA. I think that not doing club has probably put me at a disadvantage from the girls who have,” Colleen Traver ‘24, a JV player, said.

Because of the perception that club experience is essential, families are stretching themselves thin so their children can participate in club volleyball.

“I have a single mother, and dealing with both my brothers and my sports has to be difficult. My mom has to pay for our [sports] and drive us around from place to place,” Sienna Dimas ‘25, a JV Tolog who joined SG Elite this year, said. “With the things that we have already paid for, like the uniforms and equipment, it came out to around $5,000.”

Ellamae Fortin ‘23, a JV player since sophomore year, played with SG Elite in middle school but decided not to play during high school due to the high price and the large time commitment that playing club requires.

“It’s been tough to hear that I almost have to play club in order to make it to varsity. I can’t go back to club, and trying to find a good and reasonably priced club is difficult,” Fortin said.

Due to the brief school season it is hard to develop critical skills without extra court time off-campus. The school season focuses more on building a compatible team, not improving the skills of the individual players.

“High school and middle school seasons are just a couple of months at a time, and if I only did that I would not be as good as I am now,” Smith said.

The volleyball program realizes that club sports are not available to all athletes and wants to include non-club players in activities that would improve their skill level.

“We are trying to do something in the spring where girls that don’t play [club] just come in [the gym] and have some practice with [the coaches] so that [athletes that don’t play club] can keep skills up and keep playing,” Ms. Stephanie Contreras, the athletic director, said. “Coach Trent and I are working on being able to give the [non-club] athletes an opportunity.”

This story was originally published on Veritas Shield on December 10, 2021.