Want proof? The extensive e-mail the coaches Garfield High School volleyball coaches sent me last week, detailing why they think volleyball is the area’s burgeoning sport, finished with this invitation. If you don’t believe us, they said, come out to Garfield and see for yourself.
Now, I’ve been hearing this from coaches ever since I first stepped into a high-school game as a reporter six years ago. And if I had a dollar for every time I showed up for a volleyball, soccer or tennis match and found a crowd of about 20 parents, well, I probably wouldn’t be flying coach today.
So, as skeptical as I was, I took up Garfield’s invitation and went to a game last night. I walked into the gym at Lincoln High School, where Garfield is stashed until its renovations are completed, just at the start, and this is just one honest man’s perspective of a night at Garfield volleyball:
The first sound I heard was from a trumpet, and it’s only appropriate, because the popular following of Garfield volleyball began in a music room.
This is how everything got started: a bass drum, a snare drum, a trumpet. Three guys in the pep band, wanting more practice. So they decided to find Garfield’s most pathetic sports team and start playing at the games. In 2000, they found their haven with the volleyball team, which was in the midst of a 36-game losing streak that had begun in 1997.
A pep band playing during timeouts and between games at a volleyball match, and leading cheers was unheard of at the time. But now, entering a Garfield match, it’s easy to see those three brave musicians were onto something. I’ve been to a number of volleyball matches in the past half-dozen years, and none was quite like this.
The home half of the gym is packed, for one, and the crowd of at least 200 is riveted on every rally as if it’s fourth-and-inches. The pep band is much larger now than that rudimentary unit a decade ago. It leads the way
But if there’s one thing that surprises me most, it this:
The dudes. There are tons of guys, rowdy guys — at a volleyball match. There are guys wearing capes, crazy hats, and basically everything but the face paint, guys running on the court to celebrate the win and guys leading the crowd through cheers. Most commonly, they chant, “Side out,” during the opponents’ serve.
Some of these guys were raised on volleyball, but not all of them. Junior Dylan Koutsky, whose sister played at Garfield, says, “She’d ask me to go, and I thought, “There’s no way these games are going to be tight.'”
“Tight,” apparently, they were. He’s been going ever since. He adds: “But it was awesome … now I love it.”
These guys get so loud, most of the teams they visit on the road don’t let them bring their instruments in. “They’re too scared of us,” senior Noah Cohn said. Garfield’s fans have to give their team some kind of an advantage, home or road.
But it’s not exactly an advantage Garfield is looking for, even if in the words of mother Jan Dyer, “We own whatever gyms we go to.” It’s more about establishing an inviting environment for Garfield’s students. Coach Leslie Hamann’s opinion is that volleyball, after all, is a gym sport, not one that should be shy about noise.
“It should not be quiet,” she says. “Let kids come out and enjoy themselves. Why not make it a fun, exciting sport? We don’t need to be as quiet as tennis.”
So she and her husband, Jack, the JV coach, have looked at ways to make the games more appealing. What they noticed at events students usually attend (read: football and basketball) was how important halftime was to the social experience of the game. Not everyone’s there for the sports themselves. Kids needed the opportunity to mingle. So they called the WIAA five years ago and asked if they could institute an intermission after the second game of each home match. They got the green light, and they incorporated contests into the intermission to liven things up.
Yet the action on the court still needs to please. And in my own opinion, the creators of girls volleyball made a smart decision, lowering the nets from the men’s height to accommodate the difference in size. The action flows better, as it’s not only the tallest girls with an opportunity to deliver a big kill to change the game. It’s far from a dull sport to watch.
Yet it’s apparently not catching on everywhere. Even amid the raucous atmosphere at Garfield, I heard plenty of stories of empty local gyms, attended sparsely by only friends and family.
I think every sport’s struggle for popularity begins here: how do they draw those fans who don’t necessarily love the sport or aren’t related to, or especially close to, the players? Seems that, at the very least, Garfield is onto something.
And it’s an encouraging tale for any other teams out there. All you need to start is a bass drum, a snare drum and a trumpet.
As with any of my posts here, I don’t want this discussion to simply be about just one school and one team. For all the vollyball fans out there, what changes, if any, have you seen in the local scenein the past five or so years? What do you think needs to be done to make the sport more interesting to the casual fan? As always, the comments section below is your oyster.
1. Marcel Smith, Graham-Kapowsin, football. Ran for 209 yards and four touchdowns in 27-18 victory against Federal Way.
2. Kelli Stewart, Kamiak, girls soccer. Scored four goals and added an assist in 10-1 win against Lynnwood.
3. Bryant Cameron, Jefferson, football. Caught eight passes for 158 yards, including touchdowns of 58 and 72 yards, and took a fumble back 97 yards for a score. Jefferson couldn’t pull out the win, though, losing 35-31 to Spanaway Lake.
Tonight’s top games
1. Edmonds-Woodway at Mariner, football, 7 p.m. Big WesCo South game headlines season’s second week.
2. Bellevue at Mount Si, football, 7:30 p.m. The Eastside will be watching to see how the Wolverines adjust from opening-week struggles.
3. Arlington at Oak Harbor, football, 7 pm. Big day for Oak Harbor, with first game in new stadium.
I’m going to be out of town for the next two days. But the blog will go on in my absence, with reports from the field from the weekend’s top games and top performances. Have a great weekend, and I’ll be back Monday.