SANDY Jamion Hartley and Larry Wrather were attracted to volleyball for the very reason that many boys don't want to commit themselves to the sport.
"My sophomore year basketball became less appealing because I had to beat out so many kids for those Division I scholarships," said Jamion Hartley, who will play for Ball State next year on scholarship. "Volleyball just gave me more opportunities."
While many boys don't see volleyball as a viable way to get a college scholarship, for black players there is actually more opportunity, according to Ed Wrather, who coaches high school and club boys volleyball teams in Chicago. He said his club, Adversity, split from another club years ago in an effort to create opportunity for student-athletes that traditional club programs might overlook.
He said it is not always easy to sell volleyball in a neighborhood that lives for hoops.
"You can't just go to the kids," he said. "They see it as a sissy sport. It's all about basketball. ... You have to sell it to the football coach and the basketball coach and show them, 'This is how it helps your program.' We took it to the inner city, and it's an opportunity to get to school."
Wrather said that colleges that traditionally cater to black students are now recruiting athletes of all ethnicities to play for their volleyball teams because "they want to win."
A former pro beach volleyball player, he said that times and the diversity of volleyball teams are changing.
"You've got to think of culture," said Ed Wrather. "I live in a black community and I have trouble recruiting black kids. ... Our society puts basketball out there as the sport that will make you rich. They put Kobe Bryant out there as the example, and they give kids delusions of grandeur."
And while he wants to see black student-athletes take advantage of what he sees as a wealth of opportunity, he's coaching to help any and all kids who want to learn the game of volleyball.
"I don't just target black kids," he said. "I try to give all kids an opportunity. Hispanic, black, Caucasian, we just target kids that want to play that don't have the means to go to college."
Hartley said he was just walking down the street, a lanky eighth-grader, when Ed Wrather approached him about playing volleyball. He became fast friends with Ed's son, Larry, an outside hitter who was talking to colleges immediately after the team's final match of the 2008 Junior Olympic Volleyball Championships at the South Towne Expo Center. The tournaments run through Wednesday and feature about 9,000 of the best junior volleyball players from around the country.
Hartley said he grew up with hoop dreams, practicing every chance he had.
"I was practicing basketball in the snow," said the rightside hitter. "But once I started playing volleyball, I really loved it."
Larry Wrather also played football and basketball but slowly spent more and more time honing those volleyball skills."I knew my chances were better in volleyball, if I wanted to go to college," said Larry Wrather, who is mulling several offers. "We were in the airport and someone asked us if we were a basketball team. They were really surprised when we said we played volleyball."