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


It all started with a chance meeting at a conference.

In 2018, Steve Sack, co-club owner of Michigan Elite Volleyball Academy (Southeast Michigan; Lakeshore Region ) attended the AVCA convention . At one point, he found himself sitting next to Lucy Jones, executive director of Starlings Volleyball.

Less than two years later, the two put the finishing touches on a deal to make Michigan Elite one of Starlings’ most recent Sister Clubs.

“She sat down next to me, we started talking … and started to realize that what she was trying to do and what we were trying to do were in sync.” Sack remembered.

In the first part of this series, we learned that Starling’s mission is to positively impact the lives of at-risk girls through the sport of volleyball. Helping the community is also important at Michigan Elite. The club has worked with the Detroit Police Athletic League to provide free entrance to tournaments in the past, and Michigan Elite members have taken trips to a local shelter for kids escaping domestic abuse, teaching volleyball to the survivors there but also befriending the children..

“This was an opportunity to set up a long-term partnership with an organization that matched with what we do,” Sack said. “Yeah, we’re here to teach kids volleyball … but it’s only part of our overall mission. We’re here to teach kids life lessons and character development and interpersonal skills. The Starlings mission was in sync with what our mission is.”

Thus, when Sack recognized the opportunity to help even more kids play volleyball, he jumped. There wasn’t even much of a discussion between the Michigan Elite leaders; they were all in on being a Sister Club.

As a Sister Club, the coaches and administration at Michigan Elite will assist the new Starlings Club being formed, named Starlings Detroit. The two clubs will be separate entities, but Michigan Elite coaches and staff will provide guidance to those from the new club. In fact, Sack himself was involved in the search for the new club’s director. Michigan Elite is also providing other donations, such as entries into tournaments and power leagues. During the upcoming season, the clubs will hold joint trainings where teams practice alongside each other.

A unique aspect of this deal will allow both Michigan Elite and Starlings Detroit to use a brand-new facility. The pair teamed with Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Michigan, to access the school’s new St. Joseph’s Mercy Elite Sports Center, a 74,000 square-foot facility that will allow for eight-court tournaments. Michigan Elite has signed a lease agreement for the facility, and Starlings Detroit is receiving access to the courts and equipment as part of that deal.

Sack, Michigan Elite and Starlings worked together in every aspect in order to confirm the Sister Club relationship. Sack was impressed with how straightforward the entire process was.

“There was already a Starlings framework that we could plug into very easily and allow the new Starlings organization to really have a solid infrastructure to exist on …. We have a framework that is ready-made for them, and that’s where the partnership took off and things started moving forward quickly,” he said.

Although the two clubs have yet to hold their first event – the pandemic has halted those plans so far – Sack is confident Michigan Elite’s players and parents will welcome the arrangement. Club personnel have seen before how players and parents have rallied to help their communities.

“Having seen the positive feedback, the positive result and the impact that those endeavors had on the kids, we only see the same thing happening. They’ve been excited to learn more about it and hear how they can help. They’re excited to see something like this come into the organization.”

Takeaways for Club Directors

  • Jones relishes the opportunity to team up with community colleges around the country. “City colleges are really cool; they have many of these Pell Grants which are targeted for our players,” Jones said about community colleges. “They [the schools] can encourage Starlings athletes to apply for available scholarships whether or not they play college volleyball.”
  • Sack knows that club directors are constantly busy, but the workload shouldn’t preclude anyone from becoming a Starlings Sister Club, in his opinion. “One of the things that was really nice about Starlings was that they come in with a framework that’s really easy to plug into,” he said. “There’s a lot of support and it really allows you to take advantage of what they have as an organization … There’s never been a point where we thought this was a lot of work or more work than anticipated. That’s never even crossed our minds.”
  • If you have any questions for Sack about Michigan Elite’s experience as a Starlings Sister Club, he is happy to take questions at steve@mielite.com.
  • Learn more about Starlings Volleyball, USA and Sister Clubs at www.starlings.org or contact Lucy Jones at lucy@starlings.org.