20th-annual Starlings Championship celebrates on- and off-court accomplishments

“When I look at success stories of people who passed it on, got the Starling experience and they take it and pay it forward to another generation of kids, to me, those are our biggest success stories.” 
— Starlings executive director Tod Mattox 

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In 1996, Byron Shewman had an idea.

He saw that the economically disadvantaged were underserved by the elite-club volleyball structure. Shewman believed that club volleyball needed to be more affordable to more segments of the population.

So he founded Starlings.

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It began with Lincoln High School in San Diego as the base. There with 10 girls and his assistant coach was former national-team player Kim Oden. Now, 22 years later, his idea now serves more than 2,500 kids nationwide and last week Starlings celebrated.

The 20th-annual Starlings National Championship was held at San Diego City College, just five miles from where it all began. The championships featured 121 teams in four divisions from 12s to 18s, along with keynote speaker Alisha Glass, the former Penn State All-American and Olympian who was named best setter in the USA’s first World Championship gold-medal victory in 2014.

Shewman, comfortably recovering from heart surgery, was unable to attend, but is proud of what Starlings, now a national program, has accomplished.

“We’re really one of the biggest clubs in the nation,” Starlings executive director Tod Mattox said. “We have about 50 teams in San Diego, another hundred teams in L.A. and Arizona, and the rest sprinkled across the nation.”

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It would be a mistake to measure Starlings purely by size, because the club is really about opportunity, Mattox said.

“Starlings is all about opportunity and giving opportunity and trying to get them all of the advantages and privileges that this sport provides, but because of the financial component, it doesn’t work in a lot of places, so we’re trying to give those kids opportunities to play who otherwise might not play,” Mattox said.

“The club programs are getting more and more expensive, and we’re trying to say ‘Hey, we’re trying to do it in an affordable way, so we don’t exclude anybody.’ ”

To keep the clubs economically accessible, Starlings seeks cost-cutting measures while providing an excellent club experience, Mattox said.

“There’s no real cookie-cutter model, but for example, in San Diego, we have a four-month season. The season is shorter, March through June, so we’re able to get in after basketball season, sneak in after basketball and get a little gym time. We charge between $300 and $600 for that experience. Some of the more elite clubs in the area can pay $5,000-$10,000 for their season, sometimes more with all of the travel.

“ … This is a great sport, a great sport for young women. I think Alisha Glass was wonderful in her keynote speech, talking about everything it gave her as a player, and it made me think, that’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to include everybody, and not just kids that live in affluent neighborhoods.”

Because the core values of Starlings are different than most clubs, it probably won’t surprise you that success is measured differently as well.

“When you think of success stories, most people think of college scholarships. And sure, we’ve had our share of those. We have a girl in Arizona, Jayda Bree, that just made the (USA) High Performance team. She’ll be traveling to Dallas in July to play representing Starlings, so that’s exciting for us.

“But to me, the success stories are the players that come back and coach. Right now, April Clermont is in Tuba City, Arizona. She played for Starlings, she coaches for Starlings, and now she directs a five-team club on a Navajo reservation in Arizona.”

Interestingly, if a player gets good enough, they often leave Starlings for a more elite club.

“If the kids get really good, our motto is, they probably get better opportunities playing with better competition at other clubs. So a lot of them push on to better clubs, and for us, that’s good,” Mattox said.

“We don’t say, ‘Oh, they’re ripping off our players.’ We say ‘Hey, we’ve given the kids an opportunity, and now, other clubs are scholarshipping them, and they can help out that club, better themselves, and go to college, that’s great.’ That’s not really our niche. Our niche is, ‘Hey, I would never have had the opportunity to play volleyball if it wasn’t for Starlings.’ ”

20th Annual Starlings Results
U18 Gold Bracket
Sharings U18 gold champions: Indianapolis
1st Place-Indianapolis (25-23,26-28,15-7)
2nd Place- Tuba City
3rd Place- Tijuana

U16 Gold Bracket
Starlings-U16-Shonto-National Championship
Starlings U16 gold champions Shonto, back -to-back U16 winners as well as 2017 U14 champions/Starlings photo
1st Place- Shonto (20-25, 25-17, 15-11)
2nd Place- City of Los Angeles
3rd Place- Cudahy

U14 Gold Bracket
Starlings-National Champions-U14-Gold-City of Los Angeles
Starlings U14 Gold champions City of Los Angeles
1st Place- City of Los Angeles (25-27, 13-25, 26-24–double final)
2nd Place- San Benito Summit
3rd Place- Watsonville
U12 Gold Bracket
1st Place- Shonto (25-12,25-19)
2nd Place- San Gabriel
3rd Place- City of Los Angeles 12-1
Starlings-Literary-Art-National Tournament
Some of the Literary/Art winners/Ed Chan, VBshots.com
Winner: Grace Rotermund – Omaha
Gold: Kim Hallway – Mission Bay
Gold: Danika Wanish – Madison
Gold: Maya Szestowicki – Mission Bay
Silver: Kailani Griffis – Mission Bay
Silver: Morgan DeSargant – COLA
Silver: Ashley Stokes – Mission Bay
Silver: Cassandra Palanca – Mission Bay
Winner: Kayla Ngo – Mission Bay
Gold: Madison Hulburt – Oak Hills
Gold: Madison Johnston – Mission Bay
Silver: Felicia Opsah – Omaha
Silver: Kiann Wilcher – Columbia
Silver: Ily Attinger – Clairemont
Silver: Erin Young – COLA

The full gallery of photos from the opening ceremonies can be found here.

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