Updated: Mar 24, 2022
In Winter 2023, Shadow Mountain High School will add beach volleyball to try to resolve one of its ongoing issues.
Shadow Mountain is one of five Paradise Valley Unified School District high schools that will add beach volleyball to its athletic program. (Derrian Carter/ November 30, 2021)
Struggling to get students to participate in athletics, Shadow Mountain High School plans to add beach volleyball and improve its outreach methods to spark interest in its student body.
“Our participation numbers are down because we don't have as many kids,” Shadow Mountain athletic director Ron Safcik (CQ) said. “But, piquing those interests, I think it'd be pretty cool with the new sport.”
In Arizona, there are 42 Division I and 40 Division II high school beach volleyball teams. Along with four other Paradise Valley Unified School District high schools, Shadow Mountain will add beach volleyball to its athletic program in winter 2023.
Each school will play at Horizon High School and Paradise Valley High School for the inaugural season. Shadow Mountain will use the new sport to address its ongoing issue of low student participation in sports.
In the 2021 football season, the school had 32 players, a seven-player decrease from 2019. Shadow Mountain also had the lowest number of players in its football division that featured Glendale (83 players), St. Mary’s (41), Moon Valley (42) and Thunderbird (55).
Shadow Mountain girls’ basketball roster had nine players in 2020, whereas the team had 15 players in 2019. Similarly, the 2021 boys’ basketball roster has 13 players, which is nearly half of the number of players from a year prior.
Shadow Mountain serves less than 1,200 students and has been impacted by many factors. From COVID-19 and the demands of sports to competing with club sports, students have shown reluctance to participate, and the school struggles to recruit them. With beach volleyball, it aims to change that trend.
Shadow Mountain athletic director Ron Safcik
says adding beach volleyball is a good way
to expand out of traditional sports.
(Derrian Carter/ November 30, 2021)
“Beach volleyball has become more and more popular,” Safcik said. “We decided that this would be a good opportunity for Paradise Valley schools to get into it (and) to expand out of the traditional sports.”
While other sports have struggled, Shadow Mountain’s freshmen, junior varsity and varsity indoor volleyball teams have been full. The school hopes these students will transition to play outdoors first.
“Beach volleyball is kind of a cool new thing that people want to try,” said Kelly Connolly (CQ), the indoor volleyball coach at Shadow Mountain. “I know my indoor volleyball players have been asking about this for a long time, so it would help get girls interested in playing volleyball outside.”
“I believe those are the girls that are going to play,” Safcik said. “We get some of those girls that can play volleyball, and they can still get those skills and work on a lot of things that pertain to regular volleyball.”
Junior volleyball player Sophia Smith (CQ) says playing beach and indoor volleyball can help current players become better all-around by learning how to read the ball and court. She says playing beach volleyball can help maintain relationships throughout the school year because some players rarely see their teammates around the school after spending the first three months with them.
Getting students involved will also impact them off the court. Robert Zayas (CQ), the executive director of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, wrote a dissertation titled “Examination of the Impact Interscholastic Athletics Has on Participating Student-Athletes from the Perspective of the High School Principal, Athletic Director and School Counselor,” which examined the effects of high school sports on students.
“Research has shown that they get better grades, they attend school at a greater rate, they have (fewer) discipline referrals and issues when compared to their non-participating classmates,” Zayas said. “Participation, regardless of the activity, is vitally important to students today.”
While the school plans to target students that are familiar with the sport, Shadow Mountain’s recruitment plans may have to change for students who have never played or heard of beach volleyball. Zayas cautions Shadow Mountain that adding beach volleyball may cause students to question why that sport was added over others.
“If you add a sport like beach volleyball, then you got to be prepared as a school district for what other sports could be requested,” he said. “As soon as you add one, you got to make sure that you have defined criteria in place as to how that sport and how other sports could be potentially added.”
Another concern is promotion. Safcik says the school promotes sports to students through announcements and word of mouth but rarely uses social media. Sophomore volleyball player Gabrielle Livingston (CQ) says using social media can increase students’ interest in participating.
“Consistency of social media platforms and having more (exposure) across different platforms could have an impact on the numbers of students (interested),” she said.
To reach more students, Shadow Mountain can mimic what other schools did to establish their culture. At Xavier College Preparatory, the school promotes its sports by handing out information, hosting interest meetings and having open courts for current and incoming students.
“You always have a little introductory thing where the kids can come and learn about the sport and how it goes,” said Sister Lynn Winsor (CQ), the athletic director at Xavier College Prep. “The kids that are on the team come out and demonstrate (how to play).”
Winsor has helped add many sports to Xavier College Prep from soccer and lacrosse to beach volleyball. Their beach volleyball program started in 2000 and has won eight state titles in the last nine seasons. She says to successfully add beach volleyball, Shadow Mountain must have the necessary facilities, coaches and transportation.
“You have to have the quality coaches, (and) the administration has to be behind you,” she said. “Then you have to be able to take care of things like financing, the bus transportation, uniforms and (the balls).”
Xavier College Preparatory has four sand courts, and they were renovated this year. (Derrian Carter/ December 1, 2021)
At Deer Valley High School, its beach volleyball program has grown through development and mentoring since starting in 2013.
“We had a nice base of girls that were good, and then we continued to grow that,” Deer Valley varsity beach volleyball coach and Highland Lakes eighth-grade volleyball coach Kathryn Coleman (CQ) said. “Once freshmen come in, they usually stay in the program all four years.”
At Highland Lakes, she exposes kids to beach volleyball by speaking at events, such as future freshman night, in classrooms and when students are registering for high school. Her social media team also promotes on Twitter and Facebook to encourage students to participate. Zayas believes having an educator as a coach can keep students involved, even after a negative experience.
“There's a difference between somebody that just comes down and coaches every afternoon, compared to somebody that comes down and educates,” he said. “Educators make the difference in students’ lives, (while) coaches (try to) win ball games and championships.”
Coleman has coached at Deer Valley since the program began and credits solid player leadership for the program’s student retention rate.
“We put pairs together for different reasons, but I keep them together once they have their match,” she said. “They take the freshmen, younger girls and new girls under their wing, and look out for them a little more.”
For students to have a positive experience, Zayas looks at overall participation, grade point average, attendance rates and discipline issues.
“Those are going to be the types of things that students are going to rely upon long after they graduate from high school,” he said. “They'll remember the victories (and) the defeats, but the impact of learning time management, responsibility (and) respect of others. Those are all things that are going to play a critical role in the future of that young person's life.”
Safcik is confident that beach volleyball can be successful and will look at participation and retention rate to determine its success.
“Not really worried about wins or losses because those come,” he said. “Keeping students interested in athletics and keeping the program built up with numbers is very important.”
Derrian Carter is a graduate student pursuing a master's degree in sports journalism, who is enrolled in MCO 502 – Journalism Skills at Arizona State University. Email Derrian at: firstname.lastname@example.org.