StarKidz and Starlings USA Developments

Dec. 16, 2009, 11:22 p.m. (ET)

Back from a rainy weekend in San Diego filled with warmth and the powerful passionate stories of our Starlings USA National Directors Convention. Over a decade ago former USA National team member Byron Shewman was challenged to do something for the young girls who found themselves by fate to be growing up in the economically disadvantaged areas of the wealthiest nation in the world.  Kim Oden of the famed Oden Olympic volleyball sister trio, joined him at the start of his quest.

Some of you may know Byron for his writings of books like the Volleyball Centennial, or Karch Kiraly's biography.  Byron is a modern day Don Quixote, only unlike the protagonist who chases windmills, Byron's ventures succeed in making an impact on the lives of thousands of others. USA Volleyball, through its regions and national office, has long and strongly supported the work that Starlings USA does, for, like background checks, it is the right thing to do for kids. At the start, Starlings Nationals took place in the downtime of the USA Junior Olympic Volleyball Championships, where the courts were already set up and open time came in a large break between age group changeovers.

Now this annual gathering brings together over 50 Starlings clubs from around the nation, directors and coaches, to share best practices, success and hardship stories, and prepare for the next season and nationals.  For several years the Starlings Nationals has been a standalone event in San Diego, and last year had almost 150 teams competing. The Arizona RVA sends a caravan of officials and operations crew, led by Becky Hudson and friendships of a lifetime are made through the competition.  For the second year in a row, we brought those unable to afford to journey to San Diego for the Directors Conference in by webinar.

The big projects we introduced this year were the operational support and limited grant monies available to get these Starlings programs to embrace having their players spend a certain part of their own practices by coaching boys and girls aged 11 and under - the Minivolley program USA Volleyball and the FIVB has been promoting for decades, and with my new book, downloadable as a Christmas present to the volleyball family on Dec 25, these directors were the first to see the 40 years of ideas presented into one document. We have done a custom version of this for Starlings, calling it "StarKidz." My new book will also be translated this winter into Spanish for NORCECA and USA use, and will be available like all the other posters, videos and more on the grassroots button.

Did you say video John? Yep, on Christmas day another present for the volleyball family, Starlings programs included, will be the online availability of a video I helped produce for Puerto Rico in 1998. Titled "Aprendiamos Voleibol Mediante Juegos" or "Learning Volleyball Through Games,"  Freddie Sanchez, Ricky Amon, Israel Garcia and a host of others along with several scholastic programs gathered to film how to do modified games for schools. It was shared, thanks to the work of Freddie's company Propulsores del Deporte and the Puerto Rico Department of Physical Education, with every school and PE teacher on the island - and received an FIVB award for the production. We will be subtitling it into English early next year, but in the meantime if you want to see the MiniVolley book come to life, check out the video, as we know pictures are worth far more than words.  If you have seen the growth of volleyball, pro leagues, national team and all in Puerto Rico, you can see part of what fueled this interest in every school.

Byron sent this email to all Starlings clubs which summed up the gathering in his words, so will share it below.

From: Byron Shewman []
Sent: Sunday, December 13, 2009 11:20 AM
Subject: Convention note

Consistently the best thing for me about this annual event is that I get to spend a little time with the best people I know. Others among you have shared with me the same sentiment. The convention yesterday was truly wonderful.  We had about 50 attendees and many more joined us through the Webinar. I think for those who made it in the flesh, it was a day well worth the time and expense.

As always, in my view, the best part was listening to each club director give us a report on their club:  its history, direction, defeats, and triumphs.  I had several newcomers come up and tell me how much they learned just listening to the veterans and how those testimonies were sufficient alone to convince them that this was a group they wanted to be a part of.  Such a diverse group of people with widely varying makeups, geography etc. with one common, unifying denominator:  all deeply dedicated to providing girls a positive, enduring alternative in their lives. I'm always astounded how articulate and sincere our people are----I suppose it's easier to speak as such when it comes from the heart. Omar Vargas' delivery should have been made to the United Nations.

Our presenters were remarkable as usual:  John Kessel, Tod Mattox, Michelle Brittain-Watts, Liz Mayta. A collective thanks to you all.  A thanks to my friend, Mercedes Sironi, for her technical help and also to long-time Starlings champion, Charlie Jackson, who spent time with us (and also bought us dinner....for those who wisely stayed around last night).

A big welcome to the newcomers who joined us and impressed us as well with their expressed commitment. 

Probably the highlight was John Kessel's presentation of the good news of USAV's sponsoring of the new Starkidz program which holds great promise for our clubs to initiate a grassroots opportunity for young kids. More coming on that. 

Finally, I'd like to mention that quite a few directors handed me checks that totaled over $1,000 for the Christmas posada and food/blanket distribution for the poorest people of Tijuana.  Just one more example of the people who make up the Starlings family. I will be sending you reports and photos of those events (this Tuesday is the posada).

Best wishes for a wonderful holiday and despite the new challenges that 2010 appears to have waiting for us, I can't think of a group that will somehow make it our best year to date in assisting an expanding number of kids who need a helping and caring hand more than ever.


So to each and everyone reading this far, consider getting in touch with Byron and starting a Starlings program. Note that this is not a program for "inner city" volleyball athletes. The wonderful volleyball loving Native American female athletes of the Navajo Nation are perennial top finishers at Nationals. Having had the fortune to coach and work with some of the first Native American women to compete at the Division One level, like Paula Feathers and Nana Allison-Brewer, these role models just added fuel to the fire for more Four Corner area athletes to embrace and compete in volleyball.

The Native American Volleyball Academy, NAVA, led by Nana, has also been a source of quality education and athlete development for players and coaches with training based out of Farmington, New Mexico (near the gold medal trout waters of the San Juan River I might add).  My kids and I have been fortunate to spend time teaching with that camp, and for those seeking a special experience or to help her grow NAVA in other parts of the nation, contact Nana at South Dakota State's volleyball program (

Some of the Starlings programs are also going to work to add "StarBoyz" programs, working with Jeff Mosher at our National office to take advantage of the new 12 and 13 and under programming and discounted National Championship entry for young boys.

Michelle Brittain-Watt's excellent presentation on Grant Writing for Volleyball will also be linked here on Christmas Day on the Grassroots "Best Practices" button on the main USA page. Browse the dozens of other ideas seen there which are shared to help you better grow the game, just like Starlings Directors just shared with each other this past weekend. Now an even larger sharing of ideas is taking place at the AVCA Convention and Division I NCAA Final Four for our sport. If you are here, hope to get a chance to share new ideas with you - and if not, check out the new postings coming soon to this blog, for it is time to give even more in this holiday season. Post your ideas below to do the same, or email me and let's keep growing the game together.