Three aspiring high school seniors founded Volley4Change to fight injustices they’ve seen firsthand in youth sports.
“Volleyball4Change is an initiative to address inequalities in volleyball, particularly financial and geographic barriers that prevent many girls of color from excelling in the sport,” said co-founder Meg Houseworth.
The newly formed nonprofit aims to help girls overcome racial and economic barriers to entering competitive volleyball — the second most popular sport for girls in the United States, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Houseworth, a collegiate volleyball player and soon-to-be senior at Evanston Township High School, and Margaret Adams, also an up-and-coming senior at ETHS, joined Cherie Animashaun, who will be a senior at Niles West High School, for the free summer of Volley4Change to start camp “in hopes of giving girls of all backgrounds an equal opportunity to become high school-level volleyball players,” Animashaun wrote in a letter to the roundtable.
On Saturday, July 30th, the Volley4Change campers and coaches gathered at Clark Street Beach.
“This is our last day’s tournament — a beach day and potluck to celebrate what we’ve created — and it’s very special to have all the girls here,” Houseworth said, adding that girls who aren’t part of the camp are also included were invited to participate fun.
The camp was held at Mason Park in July on Tuesdays and Fridays from 10am to 12pm.
“We had outdoor nets on the lawn and we had coaches who mostly helped middle school-aged girls build skills and athleticism within a team. … We had quite a large audience, so we widened the age range. Our youngest is an aspiring fourth grader and our oldest players are in ninth grade,” Adams said.
They announced the camp on their Volley4Change Instagram account. Interested families could fill out a Google form that was sent to middle school students. Information about the program was also sent to junior high school physical education teachers.
The three teen organizers all played high school volleyball at ETHS, although Animashaun and Adams no longer play competitively. Animashaun, who joined Niles West after her sophomore year from ETHS, is also the founder of Her Rising Initiative, a nonprofit that works with programs in Evanston and Chicago to empower students, athletes and immigrants.
Their shared experience, as Animashaun wrote in her roundtable letter, is that volleyball “becomes more segregated at the high school level as competitive players all compete in club volleyball, which can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 a season at a snare.” for low- and middle-income families.”
Club volleyball is made up of independent organizations that train student-athletes in the sport of volleyball so they can compete off-season. Clubs rent gyms and practice time, and have administrative costs, including recruiting girls to play at their club. Tryout fees, tournament entry fees, and travel expenses add to the cost of participation.
There is evidence that the gap in access to youth sports is widening, largely due to the skyrocketing costs of year-round exercise programs that have made youth sports a $19 billion-a-year industry in the US, according to market researcher WinterGreen Research Company that tracks the industry.
The cost of club volleyball is prohibitive for many middle- and low-income families, keeping many girls away from a sport they love.
With more than 450,000 participants, volleyball has had the fastest increase in participation among girls’ high school sports in the past 50 years, surpassing basketball as the second most popular girls’ sport in the United States. 1 in popularity, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Volley4Change was funded through a community building grant from Evanston Cradle to Career. There were 23 camp participants.
“We definitely want to continue the initiative,” Houseworth said. “We’re hoping that in the winter – when junior high volleyball season is over – we can give girls some scholarship money to play club volleyball for free. We try to communicate with local volleyball club teams to give scholarships to girls. We will also look to host some open gyms in Evanston community centers or at ETHS.”
“The scholarship was the factor…” Adams said. “…that even allowed us to facilitate that,” Houseworth said, completing Adams’ sentence.
“We are very grateful to Cradle to Career and Ms. Kim [Kimberly Holmes-Ross, Director of Community Engagement at Evanston Cradle to Career]’ said Houseworth.
“She was amazing,” added Animashaun.
“It’s encouraging to know that these girls can experience volleyball the way we did as young girls and help them develop their skills and talents,” Adams said.
“We’re also trying to get younger girls out of ours [volleyball] Programs at ETHS and Niles West to continue the camp,” said Animashaun.
Many camp participants were keen to talk about their experiences in the program. A common thread was their appreciation for the experience and skills acquired. Below are excerpts from interviews with eight Volley4Change campers:
“The camp was good from the start,” said Jada S.
“I made new friends. I learned how to serve, jab and bet. I had a lot of fun and wanted more,” said Dasha T.
“This camp was a really nice experience – an opportunity to make new friends and learn new techniques in volleyball and improve anything that needs improvement,” said Vivian M.
“I loved the camp. It was great! The trainers were very enthusiastic and kind and supportive. I learned a lot and also improved in many things. I liked that the camp is free because some people can’t afford many camps. It was a great experience,” said Olivia P.
“I found this camp really fun. We made new friends and the trainers were nice. They were easy to talk to,” said Bailey S.
“I like the camp very much. I made a lot of new friends and learned a lot of the more technical things about volleyball and improved my skills,” said Jasmyn W.
“I thought it was a nice experience and it helped me get better at volleyball. It was a very nice environment to be in because you felt like if you mess up, it’s okay,” said Meri C.
“I learned new things. I’ve learned to serve, hit and bet better,” said Hannah P., the youngest camper in the program.
Several parents also stopped by the beach day celebration. Mychal Mitchell, an independent film producer, thanked the organizers and volunteers for their work to ensure the camp was a success. “I look forward to my daughter Vivian participating in this program,” Mitchell said. “Since I’m a former athlete myself – apart from religion and family, there is nothing better than sport.
“I commend her for her drive and enthusiasm to be a part of all things volleyball,” Mitchell said of his daughter. “And I’m glad these boys [coaches] try to inspire others. If my daughter can be part of anything, I want her to attend. And we live here so we love Evanston and we love the beach.”