Junior muscle? Perhaps.
Consider this from the Junior Volleyball Association’s website (jva.avca.org), which gives you an idea of what the organization is about:
“The JVA was formed when a concerned group of club directors met in Chicago to discuss the long term direction of junior volleyball. The directors, junior club athletes, and their families faced a governing body that offered their primary financial supporters a disproportionate voice in decision making, rapidly inflating costs, (especially for top teams to qualify to compete in the Open Division of the USAV Junior National Championships), and a season that offered athletes few off-season days. The group decided to form the JVDA (Junior Volleyball Directors Assoc.) as a lobby group to work for better conditions for juniors in USAV.”
Fast forward seven years later. While the JVA might have started as an alternative girls’ youth and club option, it has grown in such a way that it is a significant force in the sport.
“The JVA is doing really well,” said Jenny Hahn, the executive director of JVA. “There are pockets of the country that are growing faster than other pockets, but this past year our biggest growth was actually the Atlantic Seaboard, from the Virginia area to South Carolina.”
And that tells you quite a bit right there about the JVA, which Hahn said “wants to be the muscle for the junior voice,” and is working toward that goal, making big strides in Nebraska and Iowa this summer, as well.
“It’s all about controlling their competitions,” Hahn said. “There are areas where the [USA Volleyball] region is helpful with the club directors in running events and they’re still [USAV] members and that’s great. They’re happy with that and their competitions. But if it’s not working, then you have a choice.
“And there are areas of the country where the club directors don’t have that freedom and choice to run events.”
Accordingly, Hahn says the JVA’s biggest challenge right now is keeping up with the growth. She had added staff members and yet said, “I still feel like I’m a step behind.”
The JVA currently has 329 members who are club directors and more than 500 additional members. Most are American, but there are members from Canada, Australia and the Bahamas.
Hahn lives in Milwaukee where she co-founded Milwaukee Sting, an accomplished club program. Her JVA board of directors has some big club-volleyball names, including Joe Jablonski of Orlando Volleyball Academy, Ron Kordes of KIVA in Louisville, and John Sample of Texas Advantage in Fort Worth.
The organization originated because people in the sport wanted a non-USAV option.
“We’re southeastern Wisconsin and we were part of the Great Lakes Region,” Hahn recalled. “There was no Wisconsin region. The northern teams went to North Country and the southern teams went to Chicago. So a group of us got together and said we need our own region. We applied to break away from North Country and Great Lakes and we formed Badger Region and I was on the first board.”
Ultimately Hahn, now 60, became the region director.
“We have a great region,” Hahn said. “Part of that is our region is junior based and most of the other regions are run by officials and they don’t understand the junior experience. And the other problem is that some of them have been around for so long. When the region formed, the clubs needed the region to provide services, to provide a tournament schedule, to provide guidelines, whatever.
“But now, club directors have facilities. They’re running businesses, they need to pay bills, they need to have the freedom to manage their business and the region is restricting that.”
Along those lines, the JVA works with the AAU in many regards. But to play in a JVA tournament you don’t have to be an AAU member.
“No,” Hahn said. “And this is why the JVA event insurance is becoming so popular. AAU insurance is exclusive. Only AAU-registered teams can play in an AAU event. USAV is exclusive. Only USAV-registered teams can play in a USAV event. In a JVA-insured event, anybody can play with any affiliation. You don’t have to be a member of JVA. You can be the church group across the street, you can be an AAU team, you can be a USAV team, or you can be a JVA-insured team.”
A number of factors led to the JVA forming, not the least of which dissatisfaction with the USAV qualifiers and how late in the calendar year the national tournament was conducted.
“We had no intention of not being totally and 100-percent USA Volleyball,” said Hahn, who said she and others worked on the JVA concept for two years. She said with the strength in numbers and the coordination of some of the nation’s best clubs, “We thought we could go to USA Volleyball and explain what the issues are.”
But they got nowhere.
“During those two years at no point did they throw us a bone. They listened, but no change. And I’ll tell you what the turning point was. We were sitting in a meeting room in Minneapolis [in 2006] and [USA Volleyball CEO] Doug Beal said, ‘It’s not my job to make sure your businesses succeed.’ And we all went, ‘Whoa.’
“And at that time I still ran Badger Region.”
The JVA puts on an annual JVA World Challenge. Next April it returns to Houston and Hahn said the organization will soon have an announcement about a Challenge series with four tournaments around the country, including Las Vegas and Des Moines.
“Here’s the biggest thing about JVA: The reason we’re hiring a membership sales person is we need more members so we can speak for juniors. We need to be the junior muscle. Here’s an exact reason why it works. Last summer remember when AAU came out and said they were going to have stay to play. And it’s not AAU, it’s Disney which controls the housing and they said they were going to do stay to play. I told [AAU national volleyball chair Roger Goudy] don’t let ‘em do that. I told him it’s a huge issue and it would be a political nightmare and that JVA would pull out of our partnership and we will run our own end-of-year event if you do stay to play.”
Goudy got Disney and the JVA together by phone, but Disney was convinced stay to play was the way to go. JVA launched an email campaign by its members and, Hahn said, Disney was swayed: "Within 48 hours, they said, OK, we won't do stay to play."
And that would be junior muscle.