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Young Iowans introduced to volleyball

BY TOM GOLDHAMMER | JUNE 27, 2012 6:30 AM

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Iowa isn't a "volleyball state." Especially not compared with athletics programs such as Iowa wrestling and football.

But the city's Parks and Recreation Department is trying to change that. Dani Meirick and Jennifer Dooper are leading a volleyball day camp for children ages 6 through 12.

And the camp is open to both girls and boys.

Twelve-year-old Deklin Clayton is a boy — the only one currently enrolled in the program. He loves volleyball.

Deklin had previously only played volleyball at school in gym classes, but he said he plans on sticking with the sport no matter if it's available at his future school or not.

The counselors keep in mind that this may be the only chance that some of these kids of both sexes get to be exposed to volleyball.

"Getting kids involved at a young age is important," Meirick said. "There is a lot of club volleyball out there, but there is a distinct lack of recreational opportunities."

Meirick and Dooper work to raise awareness about volleyball by building the fundamentals from scratch, while keeping the kids entertained. Each step that they take ensures that the proper technique and form are used for each of the volleyball hits being introduced to the youngsters.

There is no Monday Night Volleyball or College Volleyball Game Day. It is essential that in order for the sport to continue to field the best talent the young athletes, male or female, continue to pursue work such as what Meirick and Dooper are putting in.

Dooper, a newcomer to Iowa from Kentucky, noted how different the perspective on the sport is in the two states.

"Based on what I've seen so far, there are a lot more sports that are a lot more popular in Iowa," she said. "If more camps like this were offered at an early age, I'm sure there would be more interest by the time they reach high school. The way they have it set up now, by the time they're that [age], another sport already has their primary attention."

Volleyball reigns supreme as the most popular of the sports for girls in Dooper's home state. The difference in volleyball culture is as stark as the contrast between the University of Kentucky and University of Iowa volleyball programs — Kentucky finished this past season 28-6; Iowa ended its 2011 campaign at 11-22.

Former UI student and men's club volleyball player Spenser Clark said the attitude toward men's volleyball — and even women's volleyball — in Iowa surprised him. He grew up in Illinois, where his middle-school volleyball team was highly competitive and popular with his peers.

"People always had an appreciation for the game of men's volleyball where I was from — they liked coming to the boy's games more than the girl's because they saw a lot more hitting and blocking," Clark said. "It wasn't until I attended Iowa that I found out what the attitude toward the sport is in that state."

He said he never experienced any teasing when he was growing up as a volleyball player, but he suspects that young boys in Iowa might have a harder time fitting in to the athlete world.

"It might be a little tougher for them to get taken seriously, especially in Iowa, where wrestling and football are the main sports," Clark said. "It's hard to get a boys' volleyball program started when those sports are being really stressed at the same young age. I'm happy, though, that there's starting to be a little more introduction to women's and men's volleyball for little kids in Iowa."

DI Sports Editor Molly Irene Olmstead contriubted to the reporting of this story.


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