By Ray Glier for VolleyballMag.com
ATLANTA — Julian Moses was a squared-away teenager. He was ambitious in athletics and an above average student. He would have been a terrific Morehouse Man, a badge of status and reverence given to the men who graduate the prestigious HBCU on the west side of Atlanta.
But Moses’ athletic ambition was in volleyball, but Morehouse did not have a men’s volleyball program. His father, the great Olympic gold medal hurdler Dr. Edwin Moses, is a Morehouse Man, but he had to pack Julian off to Lewis University, a men’s volleyball powerhouse in Romeoville, Ill.
Julian, 25, is currently playing professionally in Spain. He was one who got away from Morehouse. Now, others won’t have to leave.
Starting in the 2020-21 school year, Morehouse and five other schools in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC), will sponsor men’s volleyball in the NCAA, an “historic” expansion of the game, according to Jamie Davis, the CEO of USA Volleyball.
It marks the addition of six HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), the first such happening in American men’s volleyball.
The First Point Volleyball Foundation ($600,000) and USA Volleyball ($400,000) will provide three-year grants of $150,000 each to Division II schools Morehouse; Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio; Benedict College in Columbia, S.C.; Paine College in Augusta Ga.; Fort Valley State University in Georgia; and Kentucky State University in Frankfort. The SIAC office will receive $100,000 over three years for marketing and other operational costs.
The six schools have pledged to provide three full scholarships each for men’s volleyball.
“The demand for roster spots nationwide, it is massive,” said UCLA and USA national team coach John Speraw. “If you take the number of boys playing the game, and the number of scholarship opportunities, men’s volleyball is dead last in the NCAA in the percentage of the ability to get scholarships, meaning that there’s so many boys playing and so few opportunities.”
Speraw said a school like Morehouse would quickly get to a roster of 18. Jay Edwards, the interim athletic director at Morehouse, said at first a coach could be paid $20,000 in a part-time position, while working perhaps in a local school system.
Davis said USA Volleyball and its Sport Development Group would work with schools to identify coaches and help organize the programs.
“For us to be able to grow and develop programs in six D-II universities at one time is monumental,” Davis said. “Needless to say, to be able to have it be men’s program, where boys volleyball is the fastest growing team sport in high school, is historic. To be able to now have African-American men scholarships available at six D-II universities is going to just continue to puddle down to the grassroots level as well.
“When it comes to diversity this is an area of huge opportunity for us.”
The enthusiasm for the announcement got wheels spinning on the Morehouse campus. Edwards said the seed money from the grant is going to attract further funding from alumni to the athletic department and volleyball.
David Thomas, the Morehouse president, attended the announcement here Thursday, and said men’s volleyball will be an enrollment driver for the school.
Thomas said Morehouse wants to attract more international students and with the game played at a high level on the men’s side in Africa and South America, Morehouse can tap that market.
Moses, who won 107 consecutive race finals in the 400-meter hurdles and was the Gold Medal winner in the 1976 and 1984 Olympics, said there are plenty of 6-foot-6, 6-foot-7 athletes who have played basketball and volleyball and could make volleyball their full-time sport.
“It’s a sport very similar to basketball, and definitely the jumping abilities, the skill set, the movement around the court is similar,” Moses said. “The height that you need with the players is very, very similar. And my sense is that there’s a lot of guys out there that are really good at basketball and some of them played volleyball. Those are the ones I would like to suction off basketball for Morehouse.
“I talk to a lot of guys, and everybody that I know who’s good at basketball can play volleyball, especially the men of color.”
Moses, the chairman of Laureus Foundation USA, an international “sport for good” organization, talked about the prestige of men’s volleyball outside the U.S. He told the audience at the press conference, many unfamiliar with the sport at the top, “it’s something to watch at a high level.”
The string of announcements at each of the six HBCUs was the culmination of a cup of coffee.
Wade Garard, the CEO of the First Point Volleyball Foundation, called Speraw in 2018 from a girls volleyball tournament and said, “the girls game is growing. What about the boys? What’s going on?” They met for coffee to discuss how to clear roadblocks in growing the game on the men’s side and laid some track.
Speraw is the volunteer chairman of the board of First Point Volleyball, and the board now includes executives from Fortune 500 companies.
Garard met Greg Moore, the SIAC commissioner, at a sports conference in New York and they started discussing the idea of supporting grants for men’s volleyball. Moore took the idea to his schools and momentum started to build toward this week’s announcements at the six schools.
“Some people have asked me ‘Why volleyball’,” said Thomas, the Morehouse president. “What we do here at Morehouse College in our athletic program is to develop scholar athletes. And so volleyball to me represents a sport where we become even more attractive to an even broader group of individuals who have the possibility to be scholar athletes here at Morehouse College.
“When individuals are making a choice to go to school, and want to play volleyball, they don’t necessarily start with what are my chances of going to the pros. What I’m imagining is that volleyball will help us attract individuals who want to play at a high level, but also want to invest deeply in their experience as scholars.”
Speraw often talks about the Path to the Podium, that podium being the medal stand at the Olympics. It is not far-fetched, he said, to one day see a SIAC-trained player become part of the U.S. Olympic team, perhaps in the 2028 Games in Los Angeles.
“This is a progressive, outside the box opportunity,” Speraw said. “And it took a lot of courage, bold leadership, to actually go for and do this. It’s an incredible first step for us.”
Speraw said the game is grown by first taking care of the current crop of players with training. The second way is to increase the talent pool. Predominantly white schools are still heavily invested in football, but the HBCUs have jumped in to help fill up that pool.
“One of the things that I think we should be in the business of is expanding the areas in which African American men show up, participate and excel,” said Edwards, the Morehouse A.D. “Volleyball presents one of those opportunities at Morehouse, which is synonymous in the world for finding excellence.”