Recruitment for college volleyball does not come cheap
All four volleyball teams at the September 6-7 early season tournament at the Sports Pavilion each had exactly one player of color: Daly Santana (Minnesota), Marquita Marshall (Ball State), Melanie Miller (Western Illinois) and Jeme Obeime (Duke).
When asked why college volleyball — at least the teams that play the Gophers or, for that matter, the Gophers themselves — still lacks diversity, U of M Coach Hugh McCutcheon
responded, “I really can’t answer that. I do know that USA Volleyball is committed to trying to grow the game.”
My best estimate over my years covering Minnesota volleyball is that I probably can use at least four hands to accurately count the number of Black female volleyball players in Minnesota uniforms. “We are recruiting the best players we can, and that’s it,” stated McCutcheon. “More diversity is a real important part of our development. There’s no question that some of the best athletes are people of color.”
Unfortunately, in this second decade of the 21st Century, volleyball, instead of attracting more Blacks, seems to be repellent when it comes to urban females: It seemingly still reeks with country club residue.
“You got to start early in volleyball, no later than seventh grade,” advises Christopher Obeime of Carmel, Ind., who was in town to watch his youngest daughter play the game. He and his wife wanted their two daughters to play a sport, and volleyball became their choice.
Oldest daughter Ivie played on a 2005 state high school title team, played three seasons at Indiana, and now is director of volleyball operations at Butler University, a team ironically coached by Sharon Clark, the
school’s all-time winningest coach and one of the few Black women head volleyball coaches at a non-HBCU college or university.
Youngest daughter Jeme also played on a state high school championship team four years later and was a three-time all-stater. Now a junior at Duke, Obeime is a returning all-ACC academic team member and starts at outside hitter.
Proudly, her father admits that if it was not for club volleyball, Jeme wouldn’t have gotten “a ton of scholarship offers” before accepting Duke’s full-ride offer. “The [college] coaches don’t recruit high schools… All the recruiting is done at club. If you don’t play club, you don’t get seen.”
Obeime recalled that a typical club season, which begins shortly after high school season ends in November and goes into June, can include up to 70 games. “There’s no break,” he pointed out. “When the [Indiana] state championship [ended] in November, the very next day we were trying out for club.”
Furthermore, club for some could easily be a code word for expensive: “We used to go an hour each way, four times a week, for club for three years,” noted Obeime. “I paid about $500 a month for six months. Then you got hotels [and other related expenses]…It’s not cheap.” He quickly added, however, that it was well worth it.
“My daughter gets $82,000 a year [in scholarship funds],” said Obeime, adding that he understands that even though he was able to make such an investment, this isn’t always the case for other families: “Inner-city families can’t afford to do what it takes to get there.”
Jeme told me that she “absolutely” appreciated what her parents did for her. Both father and daughter firmly support more Black females playing volleyball.
“I would recommend it to anybody,” Jeme said.
“When you get the right tutoring, Blacks could do well,” said her father.
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