Point of Service

by | Jan 1, 2023 | 0 comments

  • Cooper Kemnitz
  • Cooper Kemnitz
  • Team Inferno’s Jake Barry
  • Team Inferno’s Jake Barry, Cooper Kemnitz, and Conner Brandland

I grew up in Platte, South Dakota; a very small town along the Missouri River. As you can imagine, my hometown did not have any LGBTQ+ representation or men’s volleyball, so my journey into the sport has been a bit atypical compared to a lot of the athletes I coach and compete with. While I have always been an incredibly competitive person, and a bit of a perfectionist, most of this energy was placed in music during my high school years. I didn’t begin playing and coaching volleyball until I was in my sophomore year of college. That year I founded the men’s club volleyball program at South Dakota State University. 

Home Away From Home

Growing up in a hostile environment as a queer person can take quite a toll on an individual. Playing volleyball was the first moment I really considered my life as worthwhile. Within volleyball, I even found a home and a community: something I was not familiar with in South Dakota. Even if competitors or teammates didn’t like me for being gay, they couldn’t deny that I was one of the best. And honestly, at some point in my progress as an athlete, people stopped caring.

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Volleyball gave me an opportunity to show people that I was just another athlete on the court. They got to see my humanity and realize that their homophobic notions and ideologies weren’t appropriate or allowed. Even more, elite athletics are cut-throat. Other athletes and coaches weren’t concerned about my sexuality because I worked the hardest, fought like hell, and had a passion and yearning to be the best.

You could describe my relationship with volleyball during this time as obsessive. I spent all my time on volleyball. I was eating, sleeping, breathing, and loving volleyball. The expectations I created for myself and the athletes around me were monumental, and this level of play earned me a place among some of the top talent in the country. Volleyball even introduced me to a national network of other LGBTQ+ athletes through one of the largest queer sporting organizations called NAGVA, the North American Gay Volleyball Association.

Sport for Social Change

My commitment to excellence in volleyball awarded me the opportunity to build an inclusive environment so that other queer athletes have a place to express themselves and compete. Team Inferno is an adult professional team in the Volleyball League of America. I am the head coach and one of the liberos (a back-row specialist) for our team and we compete in the central division. Team Inferno is heading into our second season and is hoping to make quite a bit more noise this year as we’ve expanded our roster to nearly double from last year.

Madison Inferno Volleyball Club is the youth team created to grow the sport of boys volleyball in Wisconsin. They are a national-level volleyball club for ages 18 and under. They compete across the country from November to June before attending the National Championship over the July 4 holiday. The club was built to provide an avenue for youth athletes to compete at the national level while also focusing on their development as individuals. Working with them has allowed me an opportunity to be the coach or mentor that I never had when I was young. While assisting athletes in accomplishing their volleyball goals, we can also shape their overall growth into terrific people.

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Forward Fertility

“The VLA [Volleyball League of America] is an effort to further develop adult volleyball in the United States. The teams feature former NCAA/NAIA Collegiate standouts and domestic as well as international professional players that have previously been competing overseas.” –volleyballleagueofamerica.com

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