Three rising high school seniors created Volley4Change to help tackle injustices they saw firsthand growing up playing youth sports.
“Volley4Change is an initiative to address the inequities that exist within volleyball, particularly financial and locational barriers that prevent a lot of girls of color from excelling in the sport,” said co-founder Meg Houseworth.
The newly formed nonprofit aims to help girls overcome racial and economic barriers to entry in competitive volleyball – the second most popular sport for girls in the United States, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Houseworth, a varsity volleyball player and soon-to-be senior at Evanston Township High School and Margaret Adams, also a rising senior at ETHS, joined Cherie Animashaun, who will be a senior at Niles West High School, to launch the Volley4Change free summer camp, “hoping to give girls of all backgrounds an equal shot at becoming volleyball players at the high school level,” Animashaun wrote in a letter to the RoundTable.
On Saturday, July 30, the Volley4Change campers and coaches gathered at Clark Street Beach.
“This is our final day tournament – a beach day and potluck to celebrate what we created – and having all the girls here is so special,” said Houseworth, adding that girls who were not part of the camp were also invited to join in the fun.
The camp was held 10 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays and Fridays in July at Mason Park.
“We had outdoor nets on the grass, and we had coaches helping mostly middle school-age girls build skills and sportsmanship within a team. … We had quite a big audience, so we expanded the age range. Our youngest is a rising fourth grader, and our oldest players are going into ninth grade,” said Adams.
They got the word out about the camp on their Volley4Change Instagram account. Interested families could fill out a Google form that was sent out to middle school students. Information about the program was also sent out to middle school physical education teachers.
The three teen organizers all played high school volleyball at ETHS, although Animashaun and Adams no longer play competitively. Animashaun, who transferred from ETHS to Niles West after her sophomore year, is also the founder of Her Rising Initiative, a nonprofit that partners with programs in Evanston and Chicago to elevate students, female athletes and immigrants.
Their shared experience, as Animashaun wrote in her letter to the RoundTable, is that volleyball gets “more segregated at the high school level, as competitive players all engage in club volleyball, which can cost in the range of $3,000-10,000 per season, creating a barrier for lower and middle-income families.”
Club volleyball consists of independent organizations that train student-athletes in the sport of volleyball so they can continue to compete during their school’s offseason. Clubs rent gym space and time for practices and have administrative costs that include recruiting girls to play in their club. Tryout fees, tournament admission fees and travel costs drive the cost of participation even higher.
There is evidence that the gap in access to youth sports is widening, primarily due to the skyrocketing costs of year-round training programs that have made youth sports a $19 billion a year industry in the United States, according to WinterGreen Research, a market research firm that tracks the industry.
The cost of club volleyball is out of reach for many middle- and lower-income families, pricing many girls out of a sport that they love.
With more than 450,000 participants, volleyball has seen the steadiest increases in participation among girls high school sports in the past 50 years, surpassing basketball as the second most popular girls sport in the U.S. Girls outdoor track and field continues to rank no. 1 in popularity, according to data from the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Volley4Change was funded by a Community Building Grant from Evanston Cradle to Career. There were 23 camp participants.
“We definitely want to continue the initiative,” Houseworth said. “We hope that in the winter – when it’s the offseason for middle school volleyball – we can provide girls with some scholarship funds to pursue club volleyball free of cost. We’re trying to communicate with local volleyball club teams to provide girls with scholarships. We will also try to hold some open gyms in Evanston community centers or at ETHS.”
“The grant was the factor …” said Adams. “… that even allowed us to facilitate this,” said Houseworth, completing Adams’ sentence.
“We’re very grateful to Cradle to Career, and Ms. Kim [Kimberly Holmes-Ross, Director of Community Engagement at Evanston Cradle to Career],” said Houseworth.
“She has been amazing,” added Animashaun.
“it’s empowering to know that these girls can experience volleyball in a way that we did as young girls, and help them develop their skills and talents,” Adams said.
“We’re also trying to get younger girls from our [volleyball] programs at ETHS and Niles West to carry on the camp,” said Animashaun.
Many camp participants were eager to talk about their experiences in the program. A common thread was their appreciation for the experience and the skills that they gained. The following are excerpts from interviews with eight Volley4Change campers:
“The camp was good, from the first time I went,” said Jada S.
“I made new friends. I learned how to serve, bump and set. I had a lot of fun, and I wish for more,” said Dasha T.
“This camp was a really nice experience – a chance to make new friends and to learn new techniques in volleyball, and improve whatever you need improvement on,” said Vivian M.
“I loved the camp. It was great! The coaches were very enthusiastic and nice and supportive. I learned a lot and improved on a lot of things too. I liked how the camp is free because some people can’t afford a lot of camps. It was a great experience,” said Olivia P.
“I thought this camp was really fun. We made new friends and the coaches were nice. They were easy to talk to,” said Bailey S.
“I really like the camp. I made a lot of new friends and learned a lot of the more technical things about volleyball, and sharpened my skills,” said Jasmyn W.
“I thought it was a nice experience and it helped me get better at volleyball. It was a very nice environment to be in because it made you feel like it’s OK if you mess up,” said Meri C.
“I learned new things. I learned how to serve and bump and set better,” said Hannah P., the youngest camper in the program.
Several parents also dropped by the culminating beach day celebration. Mychal Mitchell, an independent film producer, thanked the organizers and volunteers for working to ensure that the camp was a success. “I love to see my daughter, Vivian, participating in this program,” said Mitchell. “Being a former athlete myself – outside of religion and family, there is nothing better than sports.
“I commend her for her drive and enthusiasm in being a part of anything volleyball,” Mitchell said about his daughter. “And I’m glad that these young [coaches] are trying to inspire others. If my daughter can be a part of anything they’re doing, I want her to participate. And we live here, so we love Evanston, and we love the beach.”