Boys volleyball might soon be a sanctioned sport in Indiana

As someone responsible for more than his share of well-guided spikes, Zach Newton finds himself at something of a crossroads.

Newton, an underdog for the Franklin Boys volleyball team, appears to be in a good place historically now that Indiana seems closer to finally categorizing it as a sanctioned sport.

However, that could not become a reality until the end of the 2024/25 school year at the earliest – or in the season following Newton’s graduation.

“It’s exciting for me even if I’m not there,” said Newton, a left-handed 6-foot-4 junior outside hitter. “Just knowing that I might have played a small part in it. It’s just nice to see the sport growing.

“The more people see boys’ volleyball in person, the less they think. It kind of grows on you.”

Boys’ volleyball is one of two sports currently classified as an emerging sport in Indiana by the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA), the other being girls’ wrestling.

This is the first school year of a two-year process that emerging sports must go through before being sanctioned, although more variables are involved.

Under the bylaws established by the IHSAA, its Board of Directors may designate a sport as a Recognized Sport if the following requirements are met:

• One hundred and fifty member schools or more, representing at least 40 schools from each district, have each sponsored a full program in that sport and have participated in that sport for two consecutive years (there remains the very real possibility that the rule could be lowered to 100 schools) .

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• The sport has passed the emerging sport process and an updated application for recognition as an emerging sport will be submitted to the Board of Directors.

• Provided the foregoing requirements are met, the Board of Directors may, by majority vote at its annual meeting, recognize the sport as a Recognized Sport.

There are currently 87 high schools in Indiana that offer boys’ volleyball programs, including three in Johnson County with Center Grove, Franklin, and Whiteland.

There are 118 high schools where at least one girl struggled in the past season.

Seventh-year Franklin coach Indiana Boys Volleyball Coaches Association (IBVCA) board member Sarah Records said finding a possible timeline for sanctioning the sport was difficult.

“Obviously we’re hoping to get really close to that mark,” Records said. “Our goal was to get 100 teams up and running this season, so we’d love to have the growth in another year to get IHSAA sanctioned.

“To sanction boys’ volleyball in Indiana would be huge. It would give credibility to what our boys are doing and what incredible athletes we have in Indiana.”

Boys’ volleyball in Indiana has gone through phases where it seemed like sanctioning was decades away and just around the corner.

“We kind of hit our peak in the year of COVID (2020). We should have about 63 to 65 teams,” Records said. “We have like 10 (preseason) practice sessions and then the world stopped.

“We had about 40 teams going into the 2021 season.”

And yet the sport’s resilience in the wake of the pandemic has been impressive.

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Records recognizes the growing number of boys playing club volleyball in Indiana and IHSAA for creating the burgeoning sport category. The latter, she says, has further motivated school officials, coaches, players and fans across the state.

Locally, Center Grove and Franklin have fielded teams for many years.

The Trojans won the state championship in 2006 and 2009 and were runners-up in the intervening seasons; The Grizzly Cubs have been to the state finals nine times, most recently in 2017.

A national champion has been crowned every season since 1994, the only exception being 2020 due to the pandemic.

Over time, the final hall will get bigger. The same applies to the number of fans and general interest.

“The (IHSAA) has wanted this to happen for a long time, but also wanted to take on another girls’ sport,” said Center Grove coach Andrea Pawlik. “It’s another opportunity for kids to play sports and I think it’s really picked up momentum lately.

“I really think it’s club volleyball. Many boys have been confronted with this. I’m an assistant coach for the 14’s at the Academy Volleyball Club in Indianapolis, and we’ve seen huge jumps in our numbers. We add teams every year.”

The Whiteland program is in its second season overall and first under coach Madison Scott, who was a starting player on the school’s girls teams prior to her graduation in 2014.

As such, boys’ volleyball at WHS has yet to reach the level of traction like Center Grove and Franklin.

Still, Scott is excited about what the future holds.

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“I think it’s a good thing. There are programs that have been around longer than we have, but it’s what drives the boys,” said Scott. “To see the sport grow for the love of volleyball is amazing.”

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