With discussion around diversity, equity and inclusion taking center stage across the country, USA Volleyball is committed to creating a welcoming environment for everyone involved in the sport. Partner organization Starlings Volleyball, USA helps USA Volleyball achieve that goal. In a multi-part series, USA Volleyball will celebrate Starlings Volleyball, its mission, and the USA Volleyball member clubs who help improve diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in our great sport.

Previous stories in this series:
July 29, 2020: A Starlings Heart
August 31, 2020: “It Makes Perfect Sense to Move Forward”

Bill Lang is all in for helping more kids play volleyball.

He’s shown that during his entire 28-year coaching career in club volleyball. He’s also coached at the high school level; anything to grow the sport.
So when he had the opportunity to enlist his club, Club Cactus Juniors Volleyball Club (Tucson, Arizona; Arizona Region) as a Starlings Volleyball, USA Sister Club, it was an obvious answer.

“Whatever you need, we’ll help, we’ll support,” said Lang during a conversation about helping a new Starlings program. “We’ve got a lot of different opportunities in our club, especially if it’s going to help kids play.”

Club Cactus started assisting its Sister Club, Starlings Tucson, in late January of this year when the new club began play. Before the COVID-19 pandemic shut volleyball down for months this past spring, Club Cactus (CCJ) provided gym space and a monetary donation to its Starlings counterpart, and it offered a free entry to a Club Cactus-hosted tournament, too.

Entries to any CCJ tournament will continue, and Lang is hopeful to have interaction between the two clubs expand. CCJ coaches and administrators are always willing to provide advice and instruction to those at the Starlings club. He’s hopeful that in the future, the Starlings club will be able to join in on Club Cactus practices and scrimmages.

This isn’t a one-way relationship, either. Lang says he’s received appreciative comments from CCJ parents about sponsoring Starlings Tucson, and that Club Cactus players are grateful to the Starlings kids when in the lobby outside the gym. Furthermore, Lang sees Sister Club status as a potential recruitment tool, although not one he’s necessarily counting on.

“One of the benefits that Lucy [Jones; Starlings Volleyball, USA Executive Director] and I talk about is that let’s say that Starlings has identified somebody that is a diamond in the rough,” Lang said. “Not that this was our intent, but one of the benefits of being a Sister Club is there might be a kid that someday might be able to play on our National-level team.”

While Lang has always been high on Starlings – he supported one of Club Cactus’ coaches a few years ago when she tried to create a Starlings program in the area that never materialized – it was actually another of CCJ’s coaches that paired Lang and Jones together and allowed for the creation of Starlings Tucson. Dave Rubio, current University of Arizona head coach and current coach at CCJ (where he’s coached his daughters for the past five or so seasons) told Jones that Lang would be interested in sponsoring a club in the Tucson area. The two got to talking, a couple club directors for the new program were identified, and Starlings Tucson was born.

“I know how expensive club volleyball can be, and there’s a real need for a place to play and a low -cost [option] to play,” Rubio said. “I thought this would be the natural opportunity for them to get connected.”

Starlings isn’t the only way Club Cactus has helped make volleyball more available to a wider population. CCJ also allows its own members to help pay off some of their club fees by working at the club’s annual tournament. This past year, nearly a third of the club’s 175 families took advantage of that offer, and Club Cactus also works with members for alternative funding by way of selling ads, selling sponsorships and other methods.

“We’re not going to turn anybody away for money only, we’re going to find a way,” Lang said. “Most clubs are like that.”

Whether members of Starlings Tucson, Club Cactus, or even just the community at large, Lang only wants to grow the game.

“Starlings just really fits our mission statement to offer volleyball in our community to people with a diverse background,” he said. “[As a club,] we can help .”