Their message to local Black females: ‘Get out there and try’
By Charles Hallman
Historically for many Blacks, volleyball is often seen as a too-costly country-club sport. Therefore, it’s unusual, especially in this area, to see a squad in action entirely comprised of Blacks. We observed just such a squad at the recent 2014 USA Volleyball Girls Junior Nationals at the Minneapolis Convention Center June 22 — July 3.
Del and Arleen Hughes founded the Atlanta (Ga.) Boom Volleyball Institute in 1996. Arleen quickly pointed out that Del “is the visionary of the program. We started [it] in the inner city 16 seasons ago, and it has been building [ever since]. We decided that we would start training [Black females] at an earlier enough age so by the time they are 17 or 18, they could be good enough to eventually get scholarships for college.”
Two Atlanta Boom teams were among the 1,200 teams that competed in the junior nationals. Arleen, who is the co-director, told the MSR during a match last Tuesday that she and her husband’s sole purpose for starting “a majority-minority” volleyball club program is to put to rest the ever-present notion that urban Blacks can’t or won’t play volleyball.
“We just decided to make a difference,” she said.
Arleen Hughes easily listed such colleges as Syracuse, Coastal Carolina, South Carolina State, Clemson, and Furman as places where her program alums have matriculated in recent years after their participation as Boom players.
Maria Taylor, now an ESPN sideline reporter and former University of Georgia volleyball player, and Talisa Kellogg, a former Georgia Tech outside hitter, are among former Boom members as well.
“Our program, blessed by God, now has more scholarships for college than any other organization in the southeastern United States,” said Arlene, who pointed out that over 230 athletic scholarships have been earned by Boom players. “We’ve had 17 [high school] seniors, and 14 of them are going to college to play volleyball.”
A 2001 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article titled “Atlanta’s First Family of Volleyball” posted on the Atlanta Boom website notes that Del, who played volleyball while serving in the armed services, and Arleen, who played in high school and college, met in 1994. The two both shared the love of playing the sport as well as being dismayed at not seeing Blacks in the gym playing volleyball.
They married two years later and jointly started a program for low-income girls of color of middle-school age on Sunday afternoons. Now the Atlanta Boom program operates out of a six-court facility and regularly holds camps, training, and private training during the spring and summer months.
“Now that we have our own house,” continued Arlene, “we can touch even more and get even more girls trained in this sport. We have over 19 teams across Atlanta and Birmingham, and we are trying to do things to change the face of the game. We do a lot of talking to families, trying to get out there spreading the news that this is a nontraditional sport that we [as Blacks] can do well at.”
Arlene Hughes says that the Atlanta Boom Volleyball Institute’s overall mission is “to inspire” young Black females “to believe.” That mission at least touched two local youngsters: Paris Smith of Brooklyn Park and Lauren Beecham of New Brighton both watched the Boom in action during their national tournament run. They told the MSR that the squad greatly impressed them.
“I just liked their energy,” observed Smith, who also plays for an area volleyball club.
“They kept fighting, even when they were down. I liked their energy and how they finished up,” added Beecham.
The Atlanta Boom 17 Diamond team and the 18 Diamond team both competed in the respective American and USA divisions at the two-week national girls’ volleyball tournament. Although neither Boom squad took home any hardware, the 18 Diamond team finished 23rd in their group. For the second consecutive summer, a Boom squad made it to nationals, but this summer two squads reached the club season’s cumulating annual event.
“It is a first in [the program’s] history for an all-African American team to make it this far” to the nationals, said a proud Hughes while the girls cheered the 17 Diamond squad during their eighth match in three days last week. “They did it against the strongest teams in our region.”
“I want the youth here [in the Twin Cities to know] that it can happen,” said Arlene Hughes as she strongly advised local Black females to try the sport of volleyball. “All you have to do is get out there and try.
“What we want is for everybody to know that you can succeed if given a chance. Give yourself a chance.”
More on Blacks playing volleyball in Sports Odds and Ends in this week’s MSR sports.
Images from The 2014 USA Girl’s National Volleyball Championships (June 22 — July 3, Convention Center, Minneapolis)
All photos by Charles Hallman
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected].