FORT DEFIANCE – For the fifth year in a row, Fort Defiance High School’s volleyball team was awarded the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) team academic award.
The award, given to both collegiate and high school volleyball teams, recognized the 2015 Indians squad. Schools receive the award for maintaining at least a 3.3 cumulative team grade-point average (GPA) on a 4.0 scale. Eleven players on last year’s Fort Defiance team had at least a 3.6 GPA.
“That’s what student-athlete means,” Fort coach Sue Leonard said by telephone Thursday while attending the Virginia Tech team camp. “We often forget that, but that’s what it means. Our program and our staff takes pride in that award. It’s one of my favorite awards.”
According to the press release sent by the AVCA, 764 volleyball programs were recognized across the country, including 260 high school girls teams. Fort Defiance was the only school to receive the award in Staunton, Waynesboro or Augusta County. Fort was also the only Valley District school to get recognized by the AVCA.
“These girls work really hard,” said Leonard. “It is hard for them. It’s all a time management thing.”
Erin Henderson, who graduated from Fort in 2016 and will be at James Madison University this fall, admitted that the balancing act between academics and sports can be tricky. She attended Governor’s School and took several advanced placement classes, and said adjusting to those her junior year was difficult. But by her senior year she felt she had a good grasp on the time management skills needed to succeed.
“It’s definitely pretty difficult,” said Henderson. “You have to find time. If you have a study hall or if your teacher gives you time you take advantage of it.”
Self-discipline is an important attribute for athletes to master. Henderson estimated she spent about 10 hours a week on academics in addition to the practices and games.
Leonard said the coaching staff emphasizes the importance of academics at the start of every season because the players can’t put off developing time management skills. It’s not easy for the players during the season. They must do homework on the bus or during the jayvee game, really whenever they can find some extra time. Fort also has a big sister, little sister program where the veteran players work with younger athletes on the importance of focusing on both volleyball and academics. That’s one of the reasons the AVCA recognizes teams for this accomplishment.
“It is no accident that a volleyball coaches association recognizes academic excellence as a team, rather than an individual, achievement,” AVCA executive director Kathy DeBoer said in a press release. “Players influence each other, both in execution on the court and discipline in the classroom.”