With discussion around diversity, equity and inclusion taking center stage across the country, USA Volleyball is committed to creating a welcoming environment for everyone involved in the sport. Partner organization Starlings Volleyball, USA helps USA Volleyball achieve that goal. In a multi-part series, USA Volleyball will celebrate Starlings Volleyball, its mission, and the USA Volleyball member clubs who help improve diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in our great sport.
How Starlings Volleyball and USA Volleyball Member Clubs Make Volleyball More Equitable
Starlings Volleyball, USA’s position in the volleyball world looks different from two years ago.
Since a restructuring that began in 2018, the organization has more than doubled its membership and number of sponsored clubs throughout the country. Starlings has used proactive expansion in areas of opportunity to reach more and more of what Executive Director Lucy Jones calls “mission kids.”
That mission? To positively impact the lives of at-risk girls through the sport of volleyball.
And what an impact it’s been. Since 1996, the year Byron Shewman and Olympian Kim Oden teamed to form Starlings, more than 40,000 girls have participated in a Starlings club. They’ve combined for more than 800 collegiate scholarships, and at least 90 percent of all Starlings players have graduated high school.
It’s not just what Starlings has done that’s impressive: it’s where they operate: Chicago and Detroit both have clubs, as do several Native American reservations. The Navajo Nation alone features six clubs affiliated with Starlings Volleyball. In all, between 80 and 90 percent of Starlings athletes are people of color. This fits with Shewman and Oden’s vision to provide quality competitive opportunities and training for girls from lower socioeconomic groups. More than that, it helps the youngsters “find empowerment, direction, academic support and life-skills support in order to create greater opportunity for them to be successful in life,” according to Jones.
Sister Clubs are a crucial part of successfully executing Starlings’ mission. USA Volleyball member clubs can team with a Starlings program in their area to share resources, knowledge and a love of the sport.
STARLINGS COULD NOT DO WHAT WE ARE DOING WITHOUT OUR SISTER CLUBS AND SISTER COLLEGES' SUPPORT. SISTER CLUBS ARE PRIME PARTNERS WHO ALLOW US TO GROW AND REACH MORE KIDS.”
Both the athletes and the staff of Sister Clubs help with this impact. Athletes build relationships with their Starlings counterparts, bridging the communication and understanding gaps between those from different backgrounds. Also, the local clubs can become frequent playing partners as Sister Clubs will often share gym space, or sponsor leagues and tournaments for the Starlings programs.
The staff at Sister Clubs, meanwhile, serve as mentors for their Starlings associates. Coaches share insights with those at the Starlings clubs, many of whom are less experienced coaches. USAV club directors, meanwhile, instruct on several facets of running a volleyball club, particularly on the business side.
Some Sister Clubs are even helping establish Starlings programs of their own. While not the same business organization, these Sister Clubs can be vital to the success of their Starlings neighbors.
If there’s one characteristic of all USAV Sister Clubs, Jones posits that it’s a true passion for equity and helping one another. “Sister Clubs have what I call a Starlings heart,” she said. “It's more than just filling in a blank in a club's outreach, it's a heart for improving lives of disadvantaged kids and also seeing the joy and opportunity the Starlings kiddos have to share with their players and coaches.”
Starlings is constantly looking for new Sister Clubs, and the increased awareness around diversity, equity and inclusion is helping spread the Starlings message. According to Jones, eight new Starlings clubs have been created since June, and they are continually welcoming new USAV member Sister Clubs from across the country.
If your club is interested becoming a Starlings Sister Club, visit the Starlings website for more information. The organization will also host a virtual luau on October 24. Part informational, part fundraiser, the luau is an opportunity to learn more about Starlings while connecting with volleyball greats from across the country, including current U.S. Beach National Team athlete April Ross and U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Karch Kiraly.