LA CENTER, Wash. – In the Pacific Northwest, volleyball largely is considered a sport for women. While guys play football outdoors, girls play volleyball indoors.
In the southwest, northeast and midwest, men and boys enjoy volleyball. And, lately, volleyball advocates such as Patrick Campillo have been trying to spread the sport locally.
Six years, ago, the Aces Volleyball Club gave boys an opportunity to play the sport. Many of the participants come from volleyball families, but there wasn’t a place for them to play competitively. Now, under the direction of Patrick Campillo, the U18 Aces team has attracted talent from Portland, Vancouver, the Lower Columbia Region, and a player from Montana.
“I played in high school and club, so I know what it’s like,” Campillo said. “When I moved here, I was like, ‘Oh, OK,’ it’s definitely there, but people don’t realize it,” adding his goal is to grow the sport more. “It’s been substantially pretty great as far as that part,” he said.
However, there is a level of stigma male players battle when talking with their peers.
Standout volleyball player Parker Watts from Castle Rock, who also was a “pseudo coach” on the Rockets’ high school volleyball team, said whenever he tells his friends and other people he plays volleyball, the first question he is asked is “Do you wear tights?”
“It was tough at first,” Watts said, “but then we kinda got used to it,” adding he knows he and his team members are good at the sport, “so I don’t really care about them.”
Many Aces members grew up around the sport.
Watts is the son of a pair of college volleyball players. Team member and Kelso resident Grayson Dombrowsky is the son of Kelly Dombrowsky, coach at Three Rivers Christian School in Longview and the girls program director for the Aces. Grayson Dombrowsky also is the brother of Myriah, who played college volleyball at George Fox University and Myranda, who played at Lower Columbia College.
“We were experiments and stuck with it,” Parker Watts said.
And, the Aces’ U18 team can play.
They placed ninth two years ago at the national tournament in Ohio. A year ago, they placed fifth in Phoenix, a homecoming of sorts for Campillo, who is from Tucson. The team is primed for another deep run this year in Dallas when they participate in the U18 Nationals at the end of the week.
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At the Junior Boys Classic in Anaheim, Calif., a couple of weeks ago, the Aces came in second to Balboa Bay, a nationally ranked club team out of Southern California.
The second-place finish was an eye-opening moment for the Aces who hope to put the Northwest on the map in terms of boys volleyball.
“When you go down to these California tournaments and Nationals, 90 percent of the teams are SoCal teams,” Parker Watts said. Or Florida teams, he said, adding Illinois has a good program for volleyball.
“And you only see these two or three teams from Washington come in and actually kick some butt,” he said.
This is the last year for the boys to play, Campillo said. “They’re just trying to go out with a bang.”
Campillo said the team “hid” how they did in Anaheim because they “wanted to try to do something, to prove something for the region because they know it’s (boys volleyball) not as prominent (here) as in California, the Midwest and all that.”
So, where does boys volleyball go from here? Is it gaining traction? Will it be sanctioned by the various state governing bodies?
The Aces believe it will.
As of October 2018, 24 states with 2,472 schools have boys volleyball teams. That equates to nearly 61,000 participants.
Add that in to a rather thriving college volleyball scene, shows the sport’s popularity is brewing.
“Schools are starting to build programs for boys,” Parker Watts said. “It’s slow, but it’s progress.”