Good Hearts in the Heart of America
Author: Kyle Scholzen
Three Kansas City clubs – KC Lady Jaguars, Metro Heat Volleyball Club and KC Blue Devils – are engaging Black youth throughout their communities and driving interest in the sport of volleyball. The clubs have many similarities: all predominately serve Black athletes, all are low-cost, all have coaches who volunteer their time. They also provide a safe space for young Black women who needn’t worry about being the lone Black player in the gym like they would in other clubs. That’s something Petrina Parker, head coach at the Blue Devils, knows the power of firsthand. “When I went to [Florida A&M] where I played with predominately all Black girls, there was just a comfort. Unspoken cultural similarities. I want the girls to be able to experience that. I want them to be comfortable on their teams.”
Here’s how each club provides that comfort to their members:
KC Lady Jaguars
Photo Credit: KC Lady Jaguars
The Lady Jags are the OG when it comes to growing volleyball in Kansas City’s inner city. Established in 2004, the club has taught underprivileged girls for 16 years, after founder Regina Webb noticed a lack of diversity in her daughter’s first club. With support from Heart of America Region, her former club director and others, Regina created the KC Lady Jaguars, targeting kids of different races to bring diversity to the sport.
“It was a leap of faith, and there were a lot of naysayers because of the demographic that I chose to support,” Regina said. “It was said that we wouldn’t last past a year. We’re still standing.”
Photo Credit: Scott E. Thomas & Daughter Photography
The club featured three teams and 26 players during 2019-20, and while volleyball is the club’s primary activity, Regina has also established other valuable programs to help the girls succeed in life. From tutoring programs for classwork and the ACT, ongoing grade checks, to launching a coding class and supporting players at non-volleyball events like honors banquets, family gatherings and birthdays – the Lady Jags are a family. “We all support each other,” Regina said. “Whatever we need to do to help serve our community and our young people is what our goal is. Volleyball brings you into our family, and then we have all these other avenues that will advance your young athlete.”
Photos Courtesy: KC Lady Jaguars
Regina’s goal is to see her players go to college whether they play or not. She’s proud of those who attend and of her impact on the community. In just the local volleyball space, she’s hired and trained two coaches who have gone on to run their own clubs: Petrina at the Blue Devils and Ashley Williamson of Metro Heat. “I think it's amazing that two other clubs have come on the scene to provide an opportunity for more young ladies in our community.”
Metro Heat Volleyball Club
Photo Credit: Metro Heat
Ashley Williamson brings her own spin to Metro Heat, which she started five years ago after coaching with Regina at KC Lady Jags. A former collegiate player at Northwest Missouri State, Ashley wanted to run a club “on her own terms.” Like the Lady Jags, her club focuses on players from inner-city schools, and she uses her own experiences in the game to teach them.
“We take pride in educating, first and foremost,” Ashley said. “We want to teach the girls who might not have the same opportunity [to learn from] coaches who have played and are experienced.”
Photo Credit: Metro Heat
At Metro Heat, coaches stay with their teams all the way through the club, meaning they’ll coach the same group of players through the different age groups.
“I think it’s important for consistency with coaching,” she reasoned. “That way, those girls build that bond. They grow as a team throughout their high school career.” Last year, she said goodbye to a team of high school seniors who, according to Ashley, went from “not winning a match to winning tournaments and playing in championship games.” With results like that, she feels justified in her approach. That approach has also helped establish a strong sense of family within the club. Parents whose athletes have since graduated frequently remain involved. “They still come watch us play, they still participate in fundraisers, they still, if we’re doing a car wash, they’re bringing their car out and telling their neighbors,” Ashley said. “That is probably the biggest impact, keeping it in the family. The people who started with me year one are still in very close connection with Metro Heat.”
Photos Courtesy: Metro Heat Volleyball Club
This sense of family was on full display last June. Since the club couldn’t hold a typical end-of-year banquet due to the pandemic, Ashley and the rest of the coaches embarked on a full-day car parade and visited all 47 club athletes. “We didn’t get to say goodbye,” Ashley remembered. “There were tournaments that got canceled, practice was over, and we always like to celebrate our season. We had to do something. So we drove around, decorated our cars, and honked and waved and made the best of it.” By the time she and the other coaches got home, they had no decorations left on their cars – the long day had ruined them – but they emerged with an even stronger bond with their players.
Kansas City Blue Devils
Photo Credit: Kansas City Blue Devils
The KC Blue Devils are the most unique of these three clubs. For one, they’re a volleyball branch of a bigger youth sports association that also sponsors teams in other sports.
For another, they offer opportunities to play both rec and club volleyball. Petrina Parker helped start the KC Blue Devils volleyball program in 2018, and for the first two years they played rec ball. Even now they’re offering play in recreational leagues before the club season begins in January.
“We didn’t start out in club because the price points were too high,” Petrina said. “We started in a recreational league, which allowed us to play fall or spring. The price point was lower, so the parents didn’t mind paying that much. It’s easier for them to adjust to.”
Photo Credit: Kansas City Blue Devils
Price points are critical for the KC Blue Devils. They’re also low, comparatively. Two years ago, a spot on the rec league team cost $200; last year they were able to decrease that cost to just $110 because they already had uniforms. This year, the teams will also play club volleyball. Petrina expects fees to be about $600, and she’s committed to helping offset some of that by finding sponsorships for players. With four teams and 27 players – double what they started with - Petrina thinks the Blue Devils are ready to attempt a club season and sees it as crucial for her athletes’ development. “This is what I’ve tried to get parents to understand, you’re not going to get scouted or looked at unless you’re playing club volleyball,” she said. “A lot of scouts don’t go to high schools anymore, especially in the inner city … if [young athletes] don’t transition to club, then how are they going to be able to be seen by the scouts?”
Photo Courtesy: Kansas City Blue Devils
Petrina wants to help young Black players earn scholarships to college, but it’s more than that for her. It’s about sharing a game that’s helped her throughout her life.
“My passion stems from the love of volleyball,” she said. “I found if things were going strange in my life or not going on track, I would just go play volleyball. If that's somebody else's release, then I want them to be able to have that. The world is getting tougher for kids, they have to have an outlet. If we can make that any easier, and if it leads to them getting a scholarship, then gosh darn it, I'm trying to make it happen.” An outlet. An affordable club option. That’s the KC Blue Devils.
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