Volleyball interest is at an all-time high in Peel schools
By DAVID WINER
Volleyball has become the most popular school sport throughout Peel in recent years.
The spike in participation has, in large part, been due to the Mississauga Pakmen Volleyball Club‘s outreach — through symposiums, seminars and lectures — to better prepare coaches at both the secondary and elementary school levels.
The club’s magnanimous gesture has in turn been reciprocated by unprecedented enrollment numbers making Pakmen the biggest volleyball club in Canada.
“Pakmen has been skyrocketing in the past few years both in terms of the number of participants — over 2,000 members now — and in results, with Pakmen teams winning gold in every age category in the boys’ division recently at the OVA’s (Ontario Volleyball Association) Provincial Cup,” said Pakmen president Kelly Smith, referring to championships for the 13U, 14U, 15U, 16U, 17U and 18U boys and the 14U, 15U, and 18U girls.
While results on both a provincial and national level have continued to improve for the Pakmen, so have the accomplishments of this area’s school teams.
The most recent example was provided by the Mississauga Lions, who won OFSAA (Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations) under the guidance of head coach Brent Austin.
“Looking at the teams that have come through Mississauga Secondary, the players now are much better in terms of technical skills,” agreed Austin, who has coached at Mississauga for 12 years. “They understand the game and make each other better as they really know their stuff.
“In the past, all the players could pound a ball, but they lacked some of the more refined skills that are important to the game,” added Austin. “That was often the difference between gold and silver. Things such as the technical aspect of body position when passing and digging balls and reading blocks to be in the right place. This year’s players, often corrected themselves, or knew right away, as I was pointing things out, what they needed to do to fix it. To me, this is a direct correlation to the technical teachings many of these players received at Pakmen club in Grade 7 and 8.”
The Lions gold medal showing in 2016, following a silver medal performance in 2015 is just a sample size of Peel’s advancement on the volleyball scene.
There is only one provincially-based tournament for middle schools, and these past few years have been peppered with success stories for Peel teams.
In the past three calendar years, David Leeder Middle School has won successive Tier 1 division medals, capturing gold in 2014 and silver in both 2015 and 2016.
And they are not the only schools returning home with medals. Erin Centre girls won gold and bronze in Tier 2 play the past two years and the Thomas Street girls won Tier 1 provincial gold in 2014.
“On top of these fantastic finishes, more and more Peel schools have been more and more successful throughout the tournament,” said Joe Grdisa, the Instructional Coordinator for Health & Physical Education and Extracurricular Athletics for the Peel District School Board.
“Top teams continue to compete with the best in the province, however, the second, third, and fourth-place teams are also climbing the ladder of success. And where our top teams often cruised to first place in our leagues, each year the competition (within Peel) is getting more and more difficult.”
“The board has made a serious commitment to extra curricular activities and this commitment is beginning to pay off,” reasons Smith. “Coaches are being professionally trained, teaching has improved, players are more skillful and knowledgeable, and our schools are now producing some of the best players and teams in the province.”
Throughout the process, the Pakmen club has been at the front lending a hand when it comes to coaching and training.
“They are going into the schools and helping coaches run practices and/or offering workshops for coaches,” said Smith. “We have been to over 150 schools over the past three years.
“The board runs symposiums for gym teachers and coaches each year — a full day workshop — and Pakmen has provided guest coaches and presenters (for free).”
“Another reason for the high quality of play is the number of kids in all the schools playing Pakmen, both rep level teams and Pakmen development programs. It seems every team has at least two or more players who play for Pakmen.”
The sheer numbers of students playing club ball is not lost on Austin.
“This year’s team did not have a go-to player who is a difference maker,” explained Austin. “All players worked together and realized the importance of team concept. Most of my teams in the past had an exceptional player (including former Pakmen turned professionals Terrel Bramwell and Nathan Murdock) who the other players relied on to win games, but the difference separating this year’s team to the past, is their ability to do the simple things really well … body position, defense, etc.”
Austin says, “technical coaches in the early (elementary school) years,” is the key to success.
“Our role as coaches at the secondary level at our school has changed over the last couple of years. We do not have to spend as much time on basic skill development and (instead) put our efforts into team concepts/building and system work. We joke that we are more managers than we are teacher/coaches.”
Grdisa concurs, noting some elementary school squads could give high school teams a difficult time.
“The number of schools participating in volleyball each year has remained constant at both the elementary and secondary levels,” said Grdisa. “What has improved, is the skill level. We have Grade 8 girls teams that could compete in high school. We have Grade 8 boys teams that could be top three in high school Junior (play).”
And Grdisa says one needn’t look any further than Pakmen to explain the quality of play throughout Peel.
“Improved play has come for a number reasons. Beginning with the Pakmen Volleyball Club. The leagues and programs have been key. And as years go by, siblings continue to follow their siblings (only) starting earlier. (And) the instruction in these programs is outstanding.
“Pakmen also supports coaches with clinics and workshops. So the coaching is improving.
“The PDSB (also) runs conferences, symposiums and workshops for its teachers and coaches. The PDSB also supports Pakmen clinics and in-school programs.
“So not only are the coaches more qualified, so are the HPE (health and physical education) teachers, who are teaching great volleyball units in class and running intramural programs at lunch.”
“Interest is definitely on the rise,” says Peel high school volleyball convenor Tyler Robinson. “Pakmen itself is doing a great job in its partnership with the PDSB going into elementary schools, especially, and making it fun for those kids. Those kids are then joining house leagues or trying out for their school teams.
“Running all these camps, etc., has been the reason for the growth,” continued Robinson. “(Pakmen have) done a tremendous job growing the sport, and volleyball has definitely become a mainstream sport now. Kids are wanting to play at more than the school team level. The OVA has also expanded greatly with so many clubs as options for kids to play outside of school. Especially on the girls’ side. There is (also) a great opportunity for scholarships at the next level.”
“Thanks to Pakmen and support from the Peel School Board (who supports extracurricular athletics fully) we have schools running volleyball programs, and not just coaching a team,” says Grdisa. “Programs involve connecting with feeder schools, running clinics for upcoming students, hosting tournaments and events. This is all a part of our enhancement of (the) PDSB Family of Schools Communities that include a high school and all the schools that feed into it.
“Pakmen supports (it by) running free workshops after school and at conferences. They do after-school clinics at a reduced cost that is supported (paid for) by me and athletics.
A prime example for schools connecting with feeder schools is John Fraser Secondary which supports Thomas St. Middle School by sending referees and helpers to tournaments. Thomas Street hosts tournaments for the three feeder schools Castlebridge, Credit Valley and Middlebury. Thomas Street also visits the three feeder schools and conducts clinics for the Grade 5 students.
And the growth in volleyball participation is no longer restricted to the indoor game either.
According to Grdisa, “The number of different levels of competition has definitely increased. (And) in South Peel, we have included beach volleyball tournaments as well. Thanks to the partnership with Pakmen VBC and the PDSB. Volleyball in its various forms would definitely be the number one participation sport in Peel.”