Kokomo High School introduces boys volleyball, an IHSAA Emerging Sport

Apr. 18—Sneakers squeaked around Kokomo High School's Haworth Gym and a couple of people dodged stray red, white and blue volleyballs that had been served a bit too hard.

Flicking on a microphone, announcer Jacob Bough told the crowd to breathe in the historical moment.

Friday marked Kokomo High School's first-ever boy's volleyball home game.

Along with girls wrestling, boys volleyball became an Indiana High School Athletic Association Emerging Sport in 2022. They were the first two sports to earn the designation.

According to a press release from IHSAA, the designation means IHSAA provides rule books, conducts coaches rules meetings and provides coverage in the Catastrophic Medical program.

The two sports would become officially recognized and receive IHSAA state tournament sponsorship if 100 of the organization's schools adopted them.

The Snider Panthers, from Fort Wayne, were the first to serve at Friday's game, but a spike from Kokomo senior Owen Moore earned the first point of the match. A second point was quickly picked up by Kokomo, but the score was tied a few seconds later.

There was a bit of a lull in the crowd's energy for a while. But as both teams scored points into the 20s, the crowd grew louder and more enthusiastic.

A few parents turned around to ask other spectators if they knew how many points were needed to win a game — the answer was 25. The first game went to Fort Wayne Snider.

Building a team

Ethan Wyrick, a senior and the team's setter, had asked to put together a team in his sophomore year, but was told there wasn't enough gym space.

He had tried plenty of other sports — like football, baseball and soccer — but never found one he really loved.

"Volleyball was like the one thing that I kind of enjoyed doing and at the same time I was kind of good at it," he said.

Then, during his junior year, Kokomo held a schoolwide tournament. Wyrick recruited his friends to put together a team.

"We kind of lost the first round, but it was still a lot of fun," said Moore, the team's middle hitter.

They started playing in Jackson Morrow Park and eventually received word from the principal over the summer they could put together a team. They just needed to find enough players.

"We finally got the opportunity to play, we rounded up everybody who wanted to play and we had a good turnout on call out day," Wyrick said.

More than 20 people tried out for the team, but there were only 15 spots to fill. He added it was particularly popular with international students, who make up half the team.

Back in, looking for a win

Kokomo went into the second game looking for vengeance.

They scored a quick two points, lost a point due to a net violation that looked fine to the crowd for a little while, then picked up two more points. For a bit, they led by five points.

A timeout was called once Snider caught up. Both teams fought hard for the next point, sending the ball into enemy territory several times before Wyrick managed to go in for the kill.

Head coach Kelly Hopkins shot him an encouraging grin.

Several minutes later, the game was tied again. Snider took the lead — the crowd wasn't too happy about it — then Travis Kewley, a senior and the team's outside hitter, tied it back up.

"We have a great game here, folks," Bough said.

The crowd grew even more rowdy, shouting for each volley and screaming when Kokomo won a point.

The home team worked its way up to a six point lead. It started slipping, though.

Hopkins called a timeout with the score suspended at 24-22.

Bough commented she must have had good advice, Kokomo won the game.

A learning experience

Hopkins has been the assistant coach for Kokomo High School's girls volleyball team for the past few years. She recently found out she's becoming the head coach.

Given her experience with the sport, the school asked if she would be interested in becoming the boys volleyball head coach.

"It's been a big learning experience for all of us," Hopkins said.

It's her first experience as head coach. Going over volleyball's complex rules and developing the team's techniques can be a challenge.

"But they have been champs, taking it all on," she said of the team.

"We're really excited to grow the sport of boys volleyball. I mean, it's growing tremendously," Hopkins added. "It's such an exciting time that the sport is growing. More and more schools are getting it. ... and it's exciting that our community is starting to build on that."

The game continues

The third game saw a Kokomo player barrel into the bleachers, trying to catch a ball.

The home team seemed to have a sense of humor. When a serve fell short and went under the net, team members cracked jokes and assistant coach Alex Eades flashed the server a grin.

"We were just joking and trying to keep spirits light, people locked in and just keep on wanting to play," Wyrick explained after the match. "Because when you let your teammates get down and all depressed and get in their own heads about it, it just all falls apart."

Fort Wayne Snider picked up a nine point lead early into the game. Although Kokomo was able to close the gap a bit, the match finished at 20-25.

With one match left to win the game, Snider refused to give up its momentum in the fourth match. They won the final round 15-25.

"We tried our best," Wyrick said after the game. "This team was just really — they weren't too much better than us, but definitely just outplayed us and they had a better attitude and more experience."

The captains added they anticipated facing teams with more experience during their first season.

"We already went into it saying that we're just going to have fun this season," Wyrick said. "Not only just go for wins, try our hardest, but we're going to have as much fun as we can."

The team is about halfway through the season. There are two more home games left, set for April 26 and May 1. Both games are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

"It's definitely kind of eye opening to see how many people want to come at least watch us and support us," Wyrick said. "We're trying to continue this on because we've found how much fun it is."

"It's definitely history in the making," Moore said.

"I really enjoy playing on this team," added Kewley. "There's a lot of really great people on this team and we've got really good coaches. Even if we lose, you know, we're learning and it's really fun to be here."

James Bennett III can be reached at 765-454-8580 or