Today, the USA Junior Olympic Boys' Volleyball Championships here in Atlanta began the first of many National Titles with the finals of the 12-and-under division. This city brings back many memories of helping produce the Indoor Olympic and Paralympic volleyball back in 1996, as well as several Big South events, and tomorrow Centennial Park will be filled with funnel cake and ice cream vendors as the city celebrates the Fourth of July. A chance to see my son compete here in the 18 Open with Front Range, while helping coaches learn new ideas in the science of our sport through a CAP course, is just the icing on the cake.
A young player at the boys' Junior Olympics
Watching these youngest teams in playoffs – players, coaches, officials and parents, showed the spirit and passion of simply playing the game for the joy of playing. The hustle, team encouragement, celebrations and anguish – and just the sheer fun in playing was so strong, I told some older teams who were struggling to just swing by those courts and remember why we are all here. I had lunch with Cal Wickens of Pace Bootlegger from NY, whose 7-year-old son is here playing in this youngest division, excited not just to play, but to make new friends and swap jerseys at the end. All over the walkway spaces, kids were playing pepper with sisters and little brothers. I was also amazed at the level of diversity seen on the court playing, including the remarkable variety and colors of hairstyles.
Reid Priddy, Beijing gold medal outside hitter, is here and in addition to signing autographs and posing for countless pictures, he honored the 12-and-under division by handing out all the medals to the top three teams. Reminded me of a rock star appearance with all the flashes, cameras and videos recording the moment. His presence, like that of our USA Team and coaching staff at the Girls' JOs in Miami, has both inspired and motivated countless young players, and we all appreciate these role models coming to these season-ending events.
Pepper breaks out in the aisles at Boys' JOs
Then later, outside the CNN Center, the bronze-medal kids were still playing, with siblings, using a small Molten volleyball to play wallball, for the same reason we do sport – for the joy of playing and competing. The Junior Olympic Girls’ event in Miami continues their season-ending pursuits of National Champions with almost 800 teams. I caught a red-eye here from Phoenix, where I spent two days with the Eppersons and their staff, along with another 500 teams and coaches at the Volleyball Festival in another celebration of our sport. In closing, we give thanks to the thousands of RVA coaches, leaders, parents and officials who spend their year before coming here the work it takes to give these Junior Olympians their chance to prove that volleyball is an amazing BOYS sport too…
Reid Priddy hands out medals at Boys' JOs