2013-05-17 / Front Page

Volleyball goes varsity with no funding from school

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – Four years ago, Bill Fenton started South Portland High School’s volleyball program despite little familiarity with the sport. Fenton, the varsity coach of the South Portland girl’s lacrosse team, had a conversation with a parent in which volleyball came up as an option for girls looking to stay active in the fall.

The first year of the club volleyball program, 42 girls came out for the team, Fenton said. Like their coach, many had little to no experience with the game, but their interest has stayed strong each season since. Next year, the club program at South Portland will move up to the varsity level.

As a varsity program, the volleyball team will now have preseason workouts, a shot at postseason play and, eventually, home games at Beal Gymnasium. However, there will be no funding to support volleyball from the school department next year. Boosters will be responsible to raise all the money for uniforms, equipment, travel expenses, tournament fees and any other costs.

Fenton, who coached the team only for the initial season, is now president of the volleyball boosters. Volunteers have coached the team in the three seasons since. Fenton said the boosters’ goal is to raise $20,000 between now and the season.

To raise the money, boosters will sell coupon cards, T-shirts and concessions at local sporting events while approaching local businesses to ask for help.

South Portland sophomore Paige Carter, a forward in basketball and outfielder in softball, came into high school looking for a third sport in the fall, so she joined the volleyball team her freshman year. Carter said she understands the difficulties budget issues pose for the school department.

“We’re just now coming in, and they’re not adding things, they’re cutting things at this point. We’re not saying it’s unfair, it’s just harder to do, but I don’t blame the school board,” Carter said.

Her teammate, fellow sophomore Sydney Smith, said the girls on the volleyball team understand the situation, but Smith said it “gets a little annoying” to buy everything themselves and find transportation to games.

However, both Carter and Smith said they were looking forward to the move from club to varsity. Although all the athletes took club matches seriously, they said the level of intensity will be higher against varsity programs than it was for matches against junior varsity or club teams. Fenton agreed.

“Because it’s a varsity sport, it will be much more ramped up, but the intensity as a club team was amazing,” Fenton said.

Todd Livingston, South Portland High School’s athletic director, said the school department ultimately plans to sanction volleyball as a fully funded varsity sport, but the money simply isn’t there this year.

Livingston came to South Portland in 2011 from Falmouth High School where, he said, volleyball also started as a booster-funded sport before ultimately receiving money from the school department.

Complicating volleyball’s jump to the varsity level is construction at Beal Gymnasium, which is currently closed as renovations continue on the new high school building project. The gym is scheduled to reopen at the end of September, about a month into the fall sports season.

Livingston said he has been in discussions with officials from South Portland Community Center and Southern Maine Community College to find alternate locations for early-season volleyball home games. The team played home club matches at the community center, but Fenton and Livingston both said the space isn’t a viable permanent home for a varsity program.

Volleyball players are also not sure who their coach will be next season. Livingston is interviewing candidates. He hopes to have a coach in place by the end of the school year so plans can be set for the preseason schedule and offseason workouts.

Despite all the challenges, Smith said she thinks the South Portland varsity team can compete with more established programs next season.

“We’ve been pretty successful in the past. I think we really want to make it to the playoffs and do well in playoffs,” Smith said.

Fenton said he expects the program may need a year or two to take hold in South Portland before a deep playoff run is in the cards, but he wouldn’t be surprised if success comes sooner.

“You never know. You get a great coach and great athletes, it’s amazing what can happen,” Fenton said.

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