Friday June 29, 2012

For Karen West, the decision to leave the Wahconah Regional High School volleyball program came before the 2011 season began.

It had nothing to do with the players -- none of hers, anyhow.

West said this week that her resignation after five years at the helm in Dalton was largely due to the inclusion of boys on the girls' teams, which is allowed under Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association rules.

Mount Greylock, the Berkshire County League champion in 2011, had senior Chad Bolotin on its roster. He played on the Mounties' back line, which is also outlined in rules from the MIAA handbook.

"I had boys coming up asking if they could try out. That's when I knew," West said. "I signed up to coach girls. The boy on the team changed the whole dynamic of the league."

Greylock coach Phil Paul informed the county's volleyball coaches at their preseason meeting that Bolotin would be a part of the team. His presence moved the Mounties up from Division III to Division II in the Western Mass. postseason tournament, where they reached the semifinals.

Rule 43.2 of the MIAA handbook states, "A girl may play on a boys' team if that sport is not offered in the school for the girl, and a boy may play on a girls' team if that sport is not offered in the school for the boy."

West stressed that she wasn't angry with anyone, but she felt the game was changing beyond her willingness to make that change with it.

"It was not fair," she said. "We did not have a chance to win. The second time we played him [Bolotin], he [went] in the second game. He had skills girls just do not have. He served 10 serves right in a row, and my team got so flustered."

West believes her Warrior players would challenge her claim, but held to her belief.

"When he got up there and he was serving 10 in a row, you could see they were playing that way," she said. "They're saying, ‘Mrs. West, he's got such a spin on that ball.' "

Bolotin saw this happen in the match, too.

"You could tell that they were getting ... not frustrated, but aggravated that their team could not get the point [or] stop the serve," he said.

Mount Greylock, which was 18-0 in the regular season, swept Wahconah in the season series. The Mounties won 25-22, 21-25, 25-12, 19-25, 15-7 in September and 23-25, 25-22, 25-16, 25-16 in October.

To Laura Drake, an All-Eagle selection who played for West for four years at Wahconah -- including two years ago, when the Warriors became only the second Berkshire County team to reach a Western Mass. final -- and graduated this spring, a boy on the other side of the net was not a problem. She noted that she and other Wahconah players had played with or against Bolotin in the offseason.

"I think it came as a shock to some people, but nobody openly disagreed with it," she said. "Most of us knew him as a volleyball player and respected him as that."

Mount Greylock coach Phil Paul, who has led the volleyball program since its inception seven years ago, said the league will miss West, "a good coach," but added that he believes everyone -- male or female -- has a right to play.

"Whether or not we had Chad or any other boy, Chad was a great addition to our team; a welcome addition," Paul said. "I love the fact we had him on our team. It did move us up in [the Western Mass. postseason tournament] and hurt our chances of going farther by going into Division II.

"The rule is the rule, and with or without Chad, this year's team would have been 18-0 in the county. I don't want to take anything away from what he did for us by making that statement, but I believe it."

Bolotin said the volleyball season was "the best time I had in my life." The future University of Massachusetts student agrees with his coach's assessment.

"By growing up through sports, my parents taught me it's not one person who makes a team," he said. "Yeah, I am a guy and I'm playing against girls, but I can't do it myself. I can't hit the ball twice in a row."

West said another concern was that more boys -- specifically, at Wahconah -- had expressed interest in playing on county teams in 2012.

"You're going to see two, three, maybe four boys start to play, and it's going to overtake the girls," she added. "It should be very interesting when there are tryouts this year."

Paul doesn't believe that's on the horizon, but notes that he and the rest of the county's coaches will know more when tryouts and early-season practices commence in the fall.

He also hopes Bolotin's presence in 2011 would "push the buttons" to start boys volleyball programs in the high schools.

"I think the girls league has been very positive, and the fact that there's no boys team could be changed by the continuation of success with the girls," Paul said.

Ken Pease, Wahconah's co-athletic director with returning football coach Gary Campbell Jr., tweeted earlier this week that Dave Lussier was named volleyball coach. Lussier also coaches the Warrior swim teams in the winter.

West's resignation leaves Taconic's Jennifer Doerle as the only female head volleyball coach in Berkshire County. Doerle said Thursday that she would like to see more female coaches who could serve as an example to players in a female-dominated sport, but added that she has no problem with the ratio of male to female coaches.

"There are some men out there who are very good players," Doerle said, "and it's great that they're willing to step up and teach these girls."

To reach Matthew Sprague:
msprague@berkshireeagle.com,
(413) 496-6254.
On Twitter: @EagleSportsZone.