Beach volleyball, the fastest-growing disciplines of the sport, is exploding at the collegiate level. The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), which has the mission of promoting and fostering two-year college athletic programs, adopted it as a full-time varsity sport for women in 2019, and the program has been growing since then.
SDM sat down with Dr. Christopher Parker, NJCAA President & CEO, to discuss not only beach volleyball but the organization, its accomplishments, and its new initiatives.
Sports Destination Management: The sport became a full-time varsity offering in 2019. Have schools been adding programs since that time?
Chris Parker: It seems to be progressing well. Florida schools have really picked it up and run with it.
SDM: Is it at the championship level now?
Parker: We need to get to around 30 schools for that to happen. It is still an emerging sport, but it will become a championship sport once we have those numbers.
SDM: How long as it been since a new sport was adopted by NJCAA?
Parker: What’s almost funny is that it was the first new sport we’ve added in over a decade so the whole process of starting a sport seemed like a foreign concept. In fact, the addition of beach volleyball was the first sport added to the association since half marathon and women’s lacrosse in 2003-04.
The exciting part is that we learned from the process and from there, we have been able to open the door for other growing sports. We’ve implemented five since that time; those are still labeled as emerging sports: men’s volleyball, women’s wrestling, co-ed clay and target shooting, co-ed cheer and women’s flag football. None of those would have been able to get off the ground if it were not for beach volleyball getting things moving in the right direction.
SDM: We’re seeing growth in non-traditional sports like bass fishing and esports. Are you seeing that on the NJCAA level as well?
Parker: Esports is something schools are interested in. Wake Tech in North Carolina, for example, is getting ready to build a second facility for esports. They have a very strong program. The NJCAA does not sponsor bass fishing as a sport, but we have a lot of schools with those teams. Non-traditional sports, or sports that aren’t something you’d think of in connection with college, the way you would basketball or football, can be very strong. Bowling is one of our big sports, for example. We crown national champions every year and we have around 30 schools currently that sponsor bowling teams.
SDM: The Summer Olympics certainly showcased beach volleyball. Do you think that will have an impact on the sport at the NJCAA level?
Parker: I think so. There’s nothing like the Olympics to get interest going; young ladies will see that and become inspired.
SDM: Do you think sports like beach volleyball – as well as others – will drive an interest in schools that offer those programs?
Parker: Yes, I do. Any new sport offering is always a new opportunity for enrollment and growth, as well as an opportunity to grow college athletics.
SDM: Beach volleyball courts are increasingly being built on college campuses around the nation. Actually, we should probably call them sand volleyball, since in many states, they’re being built in landlocked locations. Are you seeing an uptick of that at the NJCAA level?
Parker: Yes, in fact, our chair for the sport is from Nebraska and they are seeing a lot of interest there, and in plenty of other states as well. All you really need is the sand – and the interested students.
SDM: How long have you been watching the growth of the sport, and the demand for it, in terms of your involvement with the NJCAA?
Parker: This sport was on the docket for incorporation when I first took this job, and I just started year five here. Back when it started, it was being driven by a couple of passionate volleyball leaders from around the country. It has grown tremendously since then. SDM