One of West Linn's best is giving back, and in the process, she's ensuring that other young volleyball players have the same opportunities she had.
To do so, Ashley Robinson — a 2005 West Linn graduate and member of the 2003 state championship volleyball team (as well as an assistant coach on the Lions' 2021 state championship team) — and a team of likeminded volunteers have launched the West Linn-Wilsonville Youth Volleyball Program.
West Linn-Wilsonville Youth Volleyball is a not-for-profit recreational volleyball program open to players in grades 3-8. While primarily focused on West Linn and Wilsonville, the program also accepts players from Lake Oswego, Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood — cities that also lack recreational youth programs.
"I think it's really important to give girls an opportunity to express themselves through athletics, and volleyball changed the whole course of my life," said Robinson, a West Linn resident and mother of three. "It started at a young age, in fifth grade, when I started playing volleyball and was exposed to the sport. I fell in love with it, and it changed the trajectory of my choices, my outcomes."
For Robinson, those outcomes included the following: she was a two-time Three Rivers League Player of the Year, a two-time first team all-state pick, KATU athlete of the month, a high school All-American, a Prep Volleyball Top 250 selection, a four-year letter winner at setter and defensive specialist at Oregon State University, an OSU team captain, a Pac-10 All-Academic selection, and a top-10 single-season and career record-holder for assists and digs at OSU.
Now, Robinson and the other board members of the West Linn-Wilsonville Youth Volleyball Program want to make sure that area youngsters have the same opportunities they did. The board includes former high school state champions and collegiate players, and local coaches dedicated to creating a quality volleyball experience for area youth.
The group includes: Kathy Walker, scheduling; Drew Walker, treasurer; Kyle Robinson, communications; Alix Montoya, secretary; Stephanie Saito, director of operations; and Ashley Robinson, president/founder.
West Linn-Wilsonville Youth Volleyball
• Signups — Due by July 31; click here to register
• Fall League — A nine-game season beginning in September with twice-weekly practices
• Ages — Open to players in grades 3-6
• Cost — $150 for grades 3-6, $225 for grades 7-8
While both the West Linn and Wilsonville high school volleyball programs have been very successful — the Lions won the 2021 Class 6A state championship while the Wildcats took second in Class 5A in both 2021 and 2019 — Robinson knows that the landscape for youth sports has changed since she was a kid.
"Fifteen to 20 years ago, there was West Linn Youth Volleyball, and I was brought into that system in fifth grade," Robinson said. "And there were middle school sports programs at Athey Creek Middle School, Wood Middle School and Rosemont Ridge Middle School. You had basketball, you had volleyball, you had wrestling, you had track and field, but unfortunately, with budget cuts, there's no longer sports in those schools."
While young athletes do have the option of playing for club teams, the cost can be prohibitive, with many of them charging thousands of dollars per season. West Linn-Wilsonville Youth Volleyball costs $150 per player for third through sixth grades (those games will be refereed by assistant coaches and parent volunteers), and $225 per player for seventh and eighth grades (with the use of trained, paid referees).
"You're seeing a lot more club options out there, but that's just become super expensive for families," Robinson said. "This program is purely a rec program. If our area had a YMCA, or a Boys or Girls Club, this is what would be run through that program, but instead, we had to create it on our own."
"After one season, I said 'Forget it. I'm volleyball only. This is way too awesome of a sport.' … It really was a gamechanger for me."
— Ashley Robinson
Signups are open through the end of July for the coming fall league, with players segmented into leagues for: third and fourth grades (a six-on-six league using an oversized, soft, light volleyball); fifth and sixth grades (a six-on-six league using an oversized, soft, light volleyball or a 12U volleyball); and seventh and eighth grades (a six-on-six league using a standard volleyball).
Each team will feature nine or 10 players, and will play a nine-game season on Saturdays starting with the first week of school and continuing through the end of October. Teams will also hold twice-weekly, one-hour practices beginning the week of Aug. 22. Practices and games will be held at Athey Creek Middle School, Willamette Elementary School, Sunset Elementary School, Stafford Elementary School, Wood Middle School and Meridian Creek Middle School.
Robinson said the league has already signed up 250 players and expects to eventually serve 300 players spread across 30 teams.
"It is incredible. It's a little overwhelming," Robinson said of the league's first-year signups. "Every one of those kids is going to play a lot a lot. … Lots of girls will get lots of opportunities."
None of this comes cheap, however. Robinson said that she and the board have learned a lot, solicited a lot of help and found out that starting a venture like this costs a lot. The not-for-profit program is accepting donations through its website here.
"Hopefully, in the future, we're going to be able to grab some sponsorships or some businesses are able to donate so that we can get additional equipment in here for the kids," Robinson said. "Starting a program from scratch in an affluent area, you would think that there'd be all the resources. But that's not we're running into — everything has a budget concern."
Despite the challenges, Robinson is thrilled with the response to the new program and acutely aware of its importance.
"I didn't start playing volleyball until the fifth grade because I was so involved in classic soccer," Robinson said. "I played classic soccer and rec volleyball for the very first time (in fifth grade), but after one season, I said 'Forget it. I'm volleyball only. This is way too awesome of a sport.' … It really was a gamechanger for me."
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