By: Vytas Mazeika
Palo Alto Daily News Staff Writer
Posted: 06/11/2009 07:52:49 PM
Liz Mayta was never the best player on the volleyball court, but it’s hard to deny her influence on the sport.
During her high school years, Mayta coached a team of eighth-graders. Later, she coached her two daughters. Today, she’s responsible for three local, low-income volleyball clubs headed to nationals in San Diego next week.
“If I had the resources, I could find more girls to play,” Mayta said. “They all really like it.”
Part of the San Mateo County Health Department’s childhood obesity task force, Mayta opened a San Mateo chapter of the Starlings Volleyball Clubs four years ago. Interested in working with low-income girls, someone suggested she get started at Bayside Middle School.
“The athletic director there started coaching for me, and it just caught on,” Mayta said.
The first season began with four girls and the program has grown exponentially. Before the third season, Mayta applied for a Sequoia Hospital grant to start a team in Redwood City, and now in the fourth season there are two teams from Redwood City — good for 45 members when combined with the original team from Bayside.
And there’s more to come.
A high school team will be needed to retain graduating eighth-graders. Currently there’s only 12- and 14-and-under teams. Plus the boys and girls club in Daly City also wants to add a team next season, which could push participation up to 100 girls.
“Boys and girls clubs are the best
partners in the world for Starlings because they have gym space but they have trouble drawing in older kids,” Mayta said. “The Redwood City Boys and Girls Club is providing two staff members and a 15-passenger van for our trip to San Diego next week.”
This is the group’s third trip to San Diego. Departure is next Wednesday in a group of 38, with three teams of girls and 11 chaperones.
The opening ceremony will showcase more than 1,000 girls from all over the country and the event will include a dance contest and a literary contest.
“A lot of these girls, they’ve never been outside of San Mateo County,” Mayta said. “The volleyball is a big part of it, but I love taking them to the beach or an amusement park and just getting them out seeing things they wouldn’t see.”
Starlings requires 50 percent of the girls be from low-income families, and the organization “defines low income as unable to afford the $2,500 club fee, which in this economy is a lot,” Mayta said.
So far San Mateo Starlings has not charged a fee, relying on donations and a lot of fund-raising. Mayta is able to secure free gym space, which can go for up to $100 an hour, through the boys and girls club as well as the San Mateo-Foster City school district.
“I don’t know how I do that, but somehow I’m able to talk people into it,” Mayta said. “Sometimes it’s $100 an hour just to rent a gym for the two-hour minimum, and that’s a lot of money.”
The season starts before Christmas and ends with nationals, with two practices a week along with four or five tournaments. One of those tournaments was hosted by Redwood City in April, with Starlings chapters from Bakersfield, Watsonville, Oakland and San Mateo also competing.
There were 160 girls on four courts, with 100 girls spending the night at the boys and girls club.
“I took them on a guided bus tour of San Francisco,” Mayta said. “That was really fun.”
Looking to expand, Mayta’s decision to join the San Mateo Chamber of Commerce has helped move the cause forward. That means fewer empty gyms, more girls playing volleyball and a healthy future for Starlings in the community.
“It really helps girls to have a better future,” Mayta said. “There’s statistics that they’re more likely to finish school and stay away from drugs and gangs and go on to college.”
For more info, visit www.sanmateostarlings.org.