RED OAK, Texas — Not many could have anticipated the unforgettable battle that featured an unforgettable, come-from-behind fifth set victory that helped Chris Bugg, Brock Houston and the Red Oak’s boys volleyball team claim the 2016 Texas Boys Varsity Volleyball League state championship May 12 at Red Oak High School.
Wait, Red Oak High School has boys volleyball?
“I’ve heard some refer to volleyball as a girls sport. It usually comes from people who’ve never played a competitive game,” said Thomas Bugg, the Hawks boys volleyball team assistant coach, about the perception of the duality of the sport of volleyball. “They’re usually the ones who get hit in the face, too. I dare anyone to watch a high-level high school or even college men’s game. It’s as tough as any sport out there.
“We had a huge home crowd, probably about 200 people. Red Oak hosted, which really helped us. We have five players who are in spring football practice and I don’t know if we could have pulled it off if we would have had to travel to Prosper after football practice. I know families from Midlothian, Waxahachie, Red Oak and Palmer who came out to watch the game. Many of those parents had had daughters who either played or play, but they wanted to see a twist added with more power. It was truly awesome. Both teams played well and executed some awesome blocks, digging ability, or power kills. I had several people tell me it was the best high school match of any kind they had ever witnessed.”
ROHS followed Lovejoy High School as the league’s second champion by defeating Prosper High School’s Eagles 4-1 in extra sets and dramatic fashion.
Though the Hawks dispatched Prosper in straight sets during both of their regular season’s meetings, the Eagles and 2016 Player of the Year Blake Parrish, who poured in a TBVVL single match record of 33 kills and added 16 digs and two aces, had other ideas.
Despite falling behind 12-10, Prosper powered back and rallied to a 14-13 lead during the fifth set and forced a serve for the championship point.
Both teams displayed resiliency and heart during a title bout, which had seven match point attempts before senior outside hitter Trenton Lee sealed the victory with a dramatic block and sent fans streaming onto the court in celebration of Red Oak’s first boys’ volleyball state championship.
“The feeling of winning a championship is a great feeling in any sport, but for a new, up and coming one, it feels like we are going to set a trend,” said Chris, a junior quarterback for the high school’s varsity football team, about the team claiming their part in history.
He led Red Oak with 12 kills, trailed closely by Jake Latimer’s 11 kills.
“Volleyball is more likely associated with girls because there’s been a lack of interest and exposure for guys volleyball and lot of people don’t immediately think about boys volleyball. Some people comment saying that it’s a girls’ sport or doesn’t even require any athletic ability, but that couldn’t be more wrong. The sport and the championship are special because we are the first in the area to have an actual boys volleyball team. It seems like it’s caught on, too, not only in Red Oak, either. I know a lot of people (in the county) who are interested in it and would love to see it on the high school level.”
Those looking for drama left home happy, but more importantly, they became footnotes of a story that may be much bigger when told decades from now.
Residents are aware of the numerous girls volleyball programs littered throughout the state and at nearly every high school, junior high school and middle school in the 6A through 1A classification levels.
In 1998, when concerned parents Paul Hastings, Mike Gaughan and Jonh Kurach, armed with reference notes from the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFSHSA) spoke to the Colorado High School Activity Association, a governing body that regulates sports activities for the state’s then 280 high schools, about the state of boys volleyball and it’s introduction into high school sports, the CHSAA rebuffed the idea of sanctioning the sport in Colorado.
According to a report done by John Baxter that same year, and based on statistics taken directly from the NFSHSA, the total number of high schools offering boys volleyball as a sport in 1998 rose to 1,380 schools, up 99 schools from the previous year.
Of these 1,380 school teams, 31,523 boys participated. In comparison, 12,537 high schools fielded girls’ volleyball teams that allowed 340,176 girls access to volleyball. Girls’ high school volleyball covered the courts in all 50 states while boys’ volleyball was active in only 19 states with many states showing only a few teams.
In 18 years, only 22 states in the United States have adopted the sport of boys volleyball. Its second biggest state, Texas, has yet to institutionalize it has a common high school sport.
“Boys volleyball as a sport exists in some private schools in North Dallas and parts of Oklahoma, though there could be some that I’m not aware of,” Thomas said. “California has a lot of high school teams, but it’s not present in a lot of other state high schools. One of the obstacles for volleyball participation is other sports. Football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball and track in the spring. So far, the TBVVL is squeezed in right after basketball ends.”
Currently, the sport is considered a club sport not connected to the University Interscholastic League and required approval from the principal Doug Funk and sponsorship from Howe, a district employee and chemistry teacher at ROHS.
Thomas said he, fellow assistant coach Blaine Bridgeford, head coach Shayne Howe and Red Oak’s boys, played volleyball anywhere they could before meeting the TBVVL — indoor and sand volleyball courts, with Brandy Bryan the owner of Mansfield’s NRG volleyball facility or anywhere there was a court, a net and opportunity.
Thomas added that adding boys volleyball to the approved list of University Interscholastic League sports wouldn’t be difficult because all the necessary equipment is already present for the girls, noting school districts wouldn’t need to make extramarital purchases outside the cost of uniforms.
More than a dozen states have high school athletic associations that include boys volleyball among their sports, but not many Texas high schools have boys teams. What people who are aware of girls volleyball may not be keen to, however, is the growing prominence of boys volleyball.
Since christening the league’s birth with an “Original 6” teams — Aledo, Canton, Flower Mound, Dallas Jesuit Preparatory, Lovejoy and Prosper high schools — in 2015, the TBVVL added Allen, Arlington Heights, Red Oak and San Marcos schools and two new open and championship divisions.
“It was thrown together last minute, but we had a lot of interest. We also had a lot of older boys. There were eight or nine of them [playing in the tournament],” said Marci Laracuente, Flower Mound High School head volleyball coach said to the Lewisville Texas about playing Dallas Jesuit, Lovejoy, Aledo, Cantons, and Prosper high schools, five of the eight teams in the second year league. “Ours were the youngest, which is good. They’ll get better and better each year.”
The sport, sparked by Lewisville ISD’s Flower Mound High School and Laracuente, began as a club sport after enough interest was shown coaches of the school rushed at the possibility of giving the males an opportunity to compete in the sport.
What Red Oak, Lovejoy and Prosper high schools, which will be favorites with a bulk of their players returning next season, could have proved with the victory is that there is a growing fervor for the sport, despite it flying under the radar among more popular and well-known boys sports like football, basketball and baseball.
“I had several people tell me it was the best high school match of any kind they had ever witnessed and many parents asking why there wasn’t more boys volleyball,” Thomas said. “It was very inspiring and I hope we get more boys involved and make it a UIL-regulated high school sport. I hope people are asking in a few years ‘Do you remember when Red Oak won the boys state title in volleyball?’”
Marcus is the sports editor for both the Waxahachie Daily light and Midlothian Mirror. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI. Contact the sports desk at 469-517-1456 and on Twitter by using #WDLsports and #MirrorSportsNB in tweets!