The Soaring Eagles Volleyball Club wrapped up its five-week season Feb. 7 playing a fun tournament in the Eisenhower Elementary School gym against its players' parents and Eisenhower faculty. Physical Education teacher Karen Miller leads the activity, which is open to Eisenhower students grades four through six. Before Soaring Eagles was established, there were no volleyball programs offered to children in Fort Leavenworth.
The Soaring Eagles Volleyball Club wrapped up its five-week season Feb. 7 playing a fun tournament in the Eisenhower Elementary School gym against its players' parents and Eisenhower faculty. Physical Education teacher Karen Miller leads the activity, which is open to Eisenhower students grades four through six. Before Soaring Eagles was established, there were no volleyball programs offered to children in Fort Leavenworth. When children began expressing interest in starting after school activities, however, Miller knew she needed to take action. "We went ahead and organized it because it's what the children wanted," Miller said. "We wanted to meet their needs." Miller's commanding presence is hard to miss. Amidst the friendly trash talk, wild serves, crowded courts and general pandemonium of a grade-school volleyball tournament, she stood out out, balancing both an authoritative and lighthearted aura. She was right in the middle of the round-robin style tournament, which lasted about an hour with all six teams playing each other at least once. Miller said her hope is that the program will keep Eisenhower's children active and healthy. "We see so many kids that just stay home and watch TV," Miller said. "We want to open an area for them to see different sports, different activities and feel confident about themselves." Soaring Eagles Volleyball was born from an idea for another after-school activity. It started when six girls came to Miller with an idea for an after-school dance club. Miller wanted to provide Eisenhower students with a unique opportunity, so she teamed up with Michele Gregor, an occupational therapist at Eisenhower and a former Kansas City Chiefs cheerleader. Gregor's cheer experience enabled her to successfully teach the children both cheer and team-style dance routines. Once the groundwork had been laid for the children's dance fundamentals, Miller invited three professional dance instructors to come in and teach hip-hop, Zumba and line routines to allow them to learn a variety of skills. The last 30 minutes of practice was devoted to dividing the children into groups and allowing them to come up with their own dance choreography. When the five weeks were up, the club put on a recital, performing their routines for teachers and parents. "They picked it up really quickly," Gregor said. "They learned a ton during the five weeks." To keep the children interested, Miller and Gregor fazed out of dance after the initial five weeks of dance were up and switched to volleyball. The program continues to switch between the two throughout the school year. Parent Kelly Funk said she appreciates the unique activities Eisenhower offers her fifth-grade daughter, Shannon. "I'm really glad she gets the chance to play volleyball because they don't offer it anywhere else on post," Funk said. "She's really learned a lot and improved, and loves practicing with her friends." In volleyball practices, children were shown a few of the basic skills of volleyball — the bump, set and spike — but were first taught how to work effectively as a team. For first-grader Seneca Gordon and her sixth-grade sister Eowyn, teamwork stood alone as the most important point of emphasis. "You can't just push your friends out of the way. You have to play with them to win," Gordon said. Soaring Eagles provides Fort Leavenworth children with an opportunity to experience camaraderie and structure away from the pressures of a scholastic environment. Research conducted by the University of Nevada, Reno, revealed that extracurricular activities such as these make a significant improvement in young children's lives. A report published by the university said "youth who participate in activities learn important skills which help them in other aspects of their life, for example, teamwork, or leadership skills." Extracurricular activities encourage positive comportment and decrease downtime that could lead to problem behaviors. The report also showed participants in such activities have higher grades and standardized test scores, attend school more regularly and have higher educational attainment than children who aren't involved. In addition to improving children's behavior and academic success, Gregor said she believes that participants have an advantage when they advance through other athletic activities later in life because these activities are started so early. "I think it's really helpful to set those foundational skills early on," Gregor said. "I think it gives them that base to build from when they're younger versus when they're older."