The sport of volleyball may be played by all ages and sexes, but at the high school level, especially in Delaware, it’s been predominantly a female game.

However, the tide is slowly changing as more schools have begun a boys volleyball program.

One at Indian River High School began its first varsity season this year.

There was a time when that didn’t seem possible. Through the hard work of many, the Indians finally received the go-ahead, with good news at the March 26 Indian River School Board meeting. A motion to start a team was put to a vote, with all but one board member in favor.

They have a two-year pilot program with no cost to the school. The team would be funded by sponsors, fundraising and donations from the Delaware Boys Volleyball Coaches Association.

The road began with interest in the sport by Michael Barnes, the manager of the IR girls under his father and head coach, Jim Barnes.

“The more he was with the team and watched the matches, the more he wished he could play on a team himself,” Jim Barnes said. “We looked into the rules to see if it would be possible for him to play with the girls, but the DIAA does not allow boys to play on the girls volleyball team.”

They found there weren’t many other options for Michael.

“The only way he could play on a team would have been to travel two or three hours away, west across the Bay Bridge or to northern Delaware where there are opportunities for boys to play on teams,” Barnes said. “That just didn’t make sense with the time and travel needed to not only play the games, but to practice with the team.”

The next logical step was to create a boys team, but they were turned away.

“We inquired about starting a boys team but were continually told that the timing wasn’t right,” Barnes said. “There were no other teams to play, there wasn’t any money for it and the school board would never approve it.”

More people got behind the effort.

First, another student, Porter Palmer, made his interest in starting a team at Indian River known, getting his mother Ginger Porter, a former IR student, involved.

“Ginger called some of her local school contacts and started the process of the possibility of starting a team,” Barnes said. “She contacted me to confirm that I would coach the team, which I would, along with my assistant coach Jay Clark, and we’d do it as volunteers to get the team started.”

With strong interest and volunteer coaches in place, the fight was not yet over.

“That began the tedious process of the many meetings by Ginger and myself to work through the process and overcome the numerous objections to starting the team,” Barnes said. “All this while Michael and Porter were recruiting and speaking with students at the school, who started hearing rumors about the possibility of a team and who would be interested in playing.”

The group received support from others in the state volleyball world, including David Lee, boys team head coach at Dickinson High School and the head of the Delaware Boys Volleyball Coaches Association.

Even with more support in their corner, heading into the 2018 spring season they still weren’t certain they’d get the nod to start a team.

“Although there was support, the timing for the school and the school board to make a decision was short,” Barnes said.

Now in their first varsity season, the Indian River team has impressed, winning each of their first three matchups behind a group with various amounts of experience.

“My son Michael has the most experience, as he has played with me since he was little and helps me with the girls team,” Barnes said. “Others have little experience and some have no experience. Some didn’t play a spring sport, some didn’t play a sport at all and some were disenchanted with their experience with another sport they played and wanted to try something new.”

Even though it’s early in their first season, Barnes has noticed differences between coaching girls and boys.

“I actually enjoy coaching both boys and girls, but I feel that I’m able to communicate and relate to the boys better because I am a male and I have two sons,” Barnes said. “The girls know and understand this, so they continue to teach me how best to communicate with them and sometimes even do it for me.”

Now with a boys team in the fold, Barnes is excited to see what both can do.

“We have many great coaches in the area and now have a volleyball programs starting at third grade on up through high school,” Barnes said. “We’re really doing something special here at IR
with volleyball.”