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Olympic Success Fuels High School Volleyball : New Programs Starting as Interest Grows

March 17, 1988|HEATHER HAFNER

Three new boys' teams made their Southern Section debuts this spring and the early reviews are favorable.

For the first time in school history, La Canada, St. Francis and Hoover highs have fielded sanctioned boys volleyball teams, part of the Southern Section's three-league expansion. Some players were criticized for their participation. Others have been heartily supported.

"Some of the football guys got on us a little," said Clark Ward, a backrow specialist for La Canada. "They said football was the only sport and volleyball was for wimps. But it's become a respected sport. And we've had good turnouts at the last couple of home games."

Volleyball has steadily increased in popularity as the U. S. national teams have climbed in the world rankings. Club teams are sprouting up nationwide and some players made more than $100,000 last year competing on the lucrative professional beach circuit.

"The success of the American men has got the California boys going," La Canada Coach Brad Miller said. In 1984, the American men proved they were the best in the world by winning a gold medal at the L. A. Olympic Games.

St. Francis Coach Pete West said high school athletes deserve some of the credit for the surge of volleyball in boys' programs.

"The kids have a real desire to learn and get better," West said.

One of those players is Jeff Polito, a senior at St. Francis.

"I had never played before," Polito said. "But I'm having a lot of fun. And our school is putting a lot into it."

According to West, it doesn't take much.

"Volleyball is a cheap sport to run and a lot easier to run than a major sport," he said. "If you look at some other schools they may not have the major sports but they have volleyball."

Many of the players who comprise the La Canada, Hoover and St. Francis teams either played on club teams last season, or didn't play at all.

Some players, such as Ward, played other sports before turning to volleyball. Ward said that after 13 years of playing organized baseball, he started looking for another athletic outlet.

"I got bored of baseball," Ward said. "I knew everything I wanted about baseball. Maybe I wasn't the best at it, but I think I learned everything I could about baseball."

Ward also sees a future for boys high school volleyball players.

"I would like to play in college," he said. "There really have never been opportunities, but now there are."

The opportunities do not begin and end at La Canada, Hoover and St. Francis, however. Saugus, Hart, San Gabriel and Canyon highs also are in their first seasons of sanctioned boys' volleyball.

Miller has 12 players on varsity and another 12 on the junior varsity--and he cut 10 players at the beginning of the season. At St. Francis, West said the turnout for tryouts was surprising.

"We expected to see 40, maybe 50 kids come out," he said. "We had 74 just between the juniors and seniors."

West eventually scaled it down to 14 players who are now competing in the Del Rey League with Bosco Tech, Alemany, St. John Bosco, Notre Dame and Crespi. Loyola, which also plays in the Del Rey League, has one of the top programs in the state.

Before jumping into league competition, though, Miller said the La Canada team had to wade through a bit of scrutiny at home.

"I think there was a bit of resentment with the track and baseball teams," he said. "But they looked at who we have and recognized that we weren't stealing anyone."

Miller also said fans have received the team well. He said nearly 100 people watched a recent home game.

If Miller's assessment of his team is any indication of the sport's impact, boys volleyball is here to stay and can only get better.

"I'm constantly amazed at how much they improve," he said. "The strength of our team has been the dedication and desire of our players."

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