The year is 2021, and gold confetti falls on the Wisconsin volleyball team as it is crowned NCAA Champions. Madison is Jumping Around.
This is how the women’s volleyball program made its mark, but what about the boys?
For more than 50 years, Title IX has required equal opportunities for all genders to play sports, but people often think of women as being the ones who need more space for these opportunities.
However, volleyball is flipped. There are many opportunities at the high school level for girls to play competitive volleyball, but many Wisconsin high schools still lack boys volleyball programs, despite the sport being sponsored by the WIAA. But there is growing excitement now about boys high school volleyball, with more than five dozen boys high school teams currently competing in the state.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, there are only 3,376 boys programs across the nation in comparison to the 77,287 girls programs.
“A lot of people aren’t exposed to the idea that volleyball is meant for boys. For girls, I’d say it’s probably a sport that a lot of people pick up at some point in their lives,” said Jared Coelho, who grew up in Northern California playing for Bay 2 Bay, a club volleyball team in the area.
Coelho, now a junior at UW–Madison, did not start playing until 8th grade. While this may seem young to most, many are getting involved in boys volleyball at a much younger age. Coelho said he wanted to try other sports like basketball, but ultimately kept coming back to volleyball.
“The main differences between the basketball experience and my volleyball experience was it felt like a lot of people in basketball were looking out for themselves and trying to recruit,” Coelho said. “Whereas volleyball is a true team sport and much more of a welcoming community.”
In terms of the sport itself, there is very little difference between boys and girls volleyball. They can use the same facilities as courts, and the lines are all the same. The main difference comes in the net height and the ball.
“Boys volleyball is a little bit more of a faster-paced game just because the ball itself is firmer and responds more to hits, so points tend to be a lot shorter,” said Gavin Frings, who played volleyball at Madison West High School and the club Madison Elite. “Off the court, I would say that the main differences I’ve noticed are that girls volleyball gets a bit more attention in general.”
There are only 61 high school boys volleyball teams across Wisconsin, but boys volleyball has been played for decades. The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association has been sponsoring boys’ volleyball since 1947.
“It [wasn’t] sponsored by the WIAA from 1983 to 1999, probably because it dropped below the threshold of how many people had a team. It came back in 2000,” said Melissa Gehring, WIAA assistant director.
While starting new sports teams that are sponsored by the WIAA can be challenging, Gehring said it was a bit easier with volleyball. Since the WIAA already had all of the girls’ rules, it was pretty simple to get it up and running.
In the Madison area, Middleton High School won its first state boys championship over Kimberly in early November. Sun Prairie West announced in December 2022 it would start a boys volleyball team of its own — an exciting development after the district’s high school split the same year. The team just completed its first full season.
“We have to get all those situated, find state tournament venues and licensed officials,” Gehring said. “For boys volleyball, we already had the rules. We already had the officials, though some of the officials don’t want to do the boys [games] because of the speed difference.”
Boys volleyball is growing, and Gehring adds that WIAA has two more schools already looking to have their teams sponsored next year. Madison is also building a new volleyball facility where League One Volleyball will play.
“I think the perception is changing a lot, especially as volleyball in general is growing. As the University of Wisconsin-Madison women’s team has had a lot of success it has gotten a lot of people interested in volleyball,” Frings said.
In terms of finding enough boys to create a team, Frings said his team usually never struggled. He noted that there is often a lot of overlap with athletes from other sports.
“There were a number of people I knew who played football initially, and then either because of injury or sort of safety concerns, they switched from football to volleyball,” Frings said.
If boys are looking to start their volleyball careers, Coelho notes that there are plenty of opportunities in the Midwest that he wished he found on the West Coast.
“I would definitely try to get started with it early locally,” Coelho said. “It’s a less oversaturated sport with the amount of people that are trying to play it, so that leads to a lot more opportunities.”