Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

Social Entrepreneurship by Making Volleyball Starrs

When Collin Henry was 15 years old, he heard about a search for young athletes interested in learning the sport of volleyball in his hometown of Kingston, Jamaica. Coach Cameron, a local youth club coach, had a vision and commitment to growing the sport and delivering opportunities to underprivileged youth, unknowingly a harbinger for a newly formed nonprofit in New York called AllStarr Volleyball.

For two years, Coach Cameron opened his home to Collin and a handful of other boys that he felt would prosper from learning volleyball. Sure enough, Collin and his teammates eventually qualified for Jamaica’s National Volleyball team, a dream that garnered them international travel and college scholarships.

After nearly 15 years playing with the Jamaican National Team, Collin took the first opportunity offered to him to move to New York. Queens College, a division two program, offered him a scholarship to play for them. Within no time, his talents were recognized by Concordia University, a program that at the time went from virtually unnoticed to 13th in the division.

Upon graduation from Concordia, Fieldston School, one of New York’s elite private schools, approached Collin to coach their high school girl’s team. The school’s athletic department seemed overly eager for him to accept the position promising a fulfilling experience working with the girls on the team. It was within the first practice that he figured out the school’s interest in having him join the coaching staff.

Franci Girard was 14 years old, 5’10 and hardly 100 pounds (over the next four years, she would add another 4 inches to her profile). She was from Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, an area that greatly differed from most of the backgrounds of her fellow classmates at Fieldson. Her mother, Jennifer Berkeley, was a single parent and determined to support Franci in any capacity to provide the best education for her daughter. It was the first day of practice when Collin approached Franci about her college aspirations.

“Where would you love to be in four years playing volleyball?” and Franci replied, “Stanford University.”

What would become a commitment of extra practice time after regular school practices and long days when school was out of session, granted Franci her wish. Franci not only attended Stanford, but she received a full athletic scholarship to play volleyball. Moreover, she was a starter all four years, won a NCAA championship in her first year, and played in two national championships in subsequent years. After she graduated, she played professionally in Germany before starting her job at Goldman Sachs.

“Collin took me under his wing, gave me a chance to shine and enabled me to achieve everything that I wanted and more,” says Girard.

I met Collin in 2008. As his new assistant coach, I quickly discovered a man that put everything aside in his personal life to share his passion and drive for the sport of volleyball. It was during our coaching together that we discovered a shared dream.

In June 2010, AllStarr Volleyball was officially filed as a nonprofit organization with a focus on delivering skills development, competition and resources to high school girls. So far the response has been overwhelming.

“It’s an amazing transition to go from fantasizing about what you want to do, and actually doing it,” said Henry, Executive Director of AllStarr Volleyball.

The idea for AllStarr Volleyball sparked years ago for its founders, but only came into fruition once a partnership was formed. A coaching relationship quickly turned into 5 to 10 phone calls a day and an equal number of emails with ideas, leads and encouragement.

“Once Reilly and I realized we had a joint vision, the wheels started to spin, but it still took us some time to figure out what our first steps would be,” said Henry. “Now that we have achieved those first few steps, the sky is the limit.”

Learning how to run a business has been a completely separate challenge. Working with the city government, finding vendors you trust and working together as a partnership, are keys to success, and often times where new entrepreneurs fail.

“We definitely have had some trial and errors, but thankfully our errors have been few so far,” said Starr, as she recalls the process of filing for nonprofit status with the Department of State. “You really have to be honest with people and let them know exactly where you stand on things – ask questions, seek advice, take experts out for coffee. You’ll find that most people are willing to help, which is a wonderful and humbling part of being a entrepreneur.”

Our first program was a college recruiting workshop, a critical step in AllStarr’s mission to provide valuable resources to young female athletes. Volleyball is a college sport played by both men and women; however, there is a distinct difference in the opportunities and support for women’s programs.

Firstly, the implementation of Title IX has had an unprecedented effect on female athletes. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 required schools and colleges receiving federal money to provide the same opportunities for girls as they did for boys. The response in high schools was staggering. Just six years after its enactment, the percentage of girls playing team sports had jumped sixfold, to 25 percent from about 4 percent.

Even more inspiring is the recent research linked to female athletes. Dr. Betsey Stevenson, an economist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, conducted an analysis that showed that increasing girls’ sports participation had a direct effect on women’s education and employment. According to her findings, Title IX explains about 20 percent of the increase in women’s education and about 40 percent of the rise in employment for 25-to-34-year-old women. The softer benefits of findings include lower teenage pregnancy rates, better grades and higher self-esteem.

Secondly, the NCAA sponsors many more women’s volleyball programs than men’s. There are 311 division one women’s volleyball programs compared to 22 division one men’s programs. The NCAA allows each division 1 volleyball program 4.5 scholarships for men and 12 for women. In division 2 the ratio is 4.5 for men and 8 for women. Bottom line: there are many more volleyball scholarships for women.

Since the first workshop, AllStarr has been approached by one of the top universities in the country to host its next recruiting event and conduct one-on-one interviews with prospective student-athletes.

In July, AllStarr coordinated its first camp for high school girls, two of which attended on scholarship.

“It was quite an accomplishment to have girls from all over the city attend our first camp located at Brooklyn’s largest sports facility near Coney Island,” said Starr. “It was also extremely rewarding to have two girls attend on scholarship that would not have been able to participate otherwise. They were arguably some of the best athletes in attendance – I have high hopes for them.”

In addition to camps and workshops, AllStarr will be announcing tryouts for regional and national travel teams this fall. Girls ages 13-18 will have an opportunity to compete in tournaments attended by college coaches recruiting for the upcoming season.

If you are interested in joining a team, becoming a sponsor, coaching, making a donation or volunteering for AllStarr Volleyball, visit starrsports.com. Currently, AllStarr is interested in corporate and private sponsors for underprivileged girls interested in playing on a team. Additionally, AllStarr has a long-term vision of building New York City’s first exclusive volleyball facility. A copy of the proposal is available upon request.

By Reilly Starr, Managing Director of AllStarr Volleyball

http://www.starrsports.com

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