By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
The University of Hawaii at Hilo is considering a proposal to add men’s volleyball and women’s sand volleyball to the collegiate sports it already offers.
Athletic director Dexter Irvin said Tuesday that discussions are in the preliminary phases with UHH and community volleyball supporters pursuing a continuing dialogue to establish the new programs, which would increase Vulcan sports from 12 to 14 teams.
“We’re reviewing the proposal and working with a state Legislative task force to determine if those new sports can work at UHH,” Irvin said. “Because of Title IX, if we add another men’s sport, than we’d have to add another women’s sport. Men’s volleyball was the sport being driven by local support, and we’ve talked about adding women’s sand volleyball because it fits in well.
“With sand volleyball, we already have some places we can play, and we have a volleyball coaching sta ff that could help make the transition smooth. The start-up costs for sand volleyball wouldn’t be as much since we have some things already in place.”
The push from the community for UHH men’s volleyball has picked up steam the past year, with a Big Island task force being formed through the state Legislature and looking at “the feasibility” of e stablishing a team at UHH. Longtime Hilo volleyball official Elroy Osorio, who has called for a Vulcans men’s team for years, has been named the East Hawaii representative and former UHH women’s coach Sharon Peterson is the West Hawaii representative on the committee.
Osorio said the task force has met on several occasions, including a few times with Irvin, and emphasized that the UHH AD is in “complete support” of a men’s volleyball program. He said Irvin has stressed to the group that financing would be the major hurdle to overcome in establishing the men’s program.
“Everybody on the committee has been very positive and we’ve had good discussions,” Irvin said. “The biggest question is, ‘How can we pay for it.’
“I’ll meet with the committee once or twice more before the task force decides on a recommendation to take back to the state Legislature — if we should have those volleyball programs or not. And if the recommendation is to have those volleyball programs, than the committee would outline the plan on how to make it happen.”
The critical issue, he said, is funding the programs on an a nnual basis.
“I think the community can help out with the start-up costs,” Irvin said. “But it’s the funding to keep it going that is the biggest challenge. W e need the help of the State Legislature and after going through all of this process, we’re going to find out the reality of it — where we are and what we can actually do.”
Osorio said state Sen. Gilbert Kahele, state Rep. Clift Tsuiji and retired state Rep. Jerry Chang have aided the men’s volleyball bid at the state Legislature, which could play a key role in helping fund any new UHH program. He said the state Legislature passed two resolutions supporting the establishment of the task force to study the proposal, and the committee will make a recommendation back to the state Legislature before its next session.
Osorio, whose son Ecko is the longtime Waiakea High School boys volleyball coach, said a lot of Big Island prep players have limited options when they finish their high school careers, with only a small percentage going on to play at the Division I level.
However, Osorio believes the Big Islan d talent level would support and produce a highly successful Division II program at UHH — much like the Vulcan women over the years — and offer those athletes a chance to play as well as earn a quality education.
Net notes: The University of Hawaii already has a women’s sand volleyball team. There are 32 colleges across the country, mostly at the NCAA Division I level, that currently sponsor sand volleyball teams. … UHH currently sponsors five men’s (baseball, basketball, golf, soccer, tennis) and seven women’s (basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, tennis, volleyball) sports.