Sports

$5k Pepsi Grant Helps Stuart H.S. Coach Host Free Volleyball Clinic

vballgroupA free volleyball camp for girls ages 12 and under being held in Falls Church this summer is thanks to a $5,000 grant awarded by the Pepsi Refresh Project. That, and a certain area high school coach’s knack for persistence.

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J.E.B. STUART HIGH Varsity Volleyball Coach Sharon Ponton (center) explains the next drill to participants at Tuesday night’s clinic. (Photo: News-Press)

 

A free volleyball camp for girls ages 12 and under being held in Falls Church this summer is thanks to a $5,000 grant awarded by the Pepsi Refresh Project.

That, and a certain area high school coach’s knack for persistence.

J.E.B. Stuart High School Varsity Volleyball Coach Sharon Ponton heard a radio commercial last February for the project, looking “for people, businesses, and non-profits with ideas that will have a positive impact.” The soda company accepts 1,000 ideas every month and then lets Pepsi’s online visitors vote with a click of a mouse to decide which idea is funded with a grant anywhere from $5,000 to $250,000.

After submitting her idea to hold volleyball clinics for community kids using high school mentors, Ponton used word of mouth and daily blast emails to rally enough online voters. Though last winter’s record snowstorm kept her from breaking past the top 20 last March, given the communication barrier between her and the Stuart High crowd, Ponton’s idea ranked in the top 10 under the $5k bracket the following month.

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A YOUNG CLINIC participant succeeds at the net during Tuesday night’s drills. (Photo: News-Press)

“Schools were on spring break and you can’t even communicate with teachers from school, so I sent to an email to my son who’d just joined a fraternity at Longwood University and I think his brothers kept us alive,” said Ponton.

Not only alive, but kicking, the volleyball clinic’s popularity broke out of the top 20 that month and into sixth place, garnering Ponton the grant last April.

The first clinic was held last month when 10 Stuart H.S. players and 23 girls showed up “with smiles on their faces, laughing while working hard at doing the drills and playing,” Ponton wrote on her Pepsi Refresh Project blog.

More than just the learning of new techniques, Sylvia Honderos of Falls Church called the social aspect of the sport “huge” for her 12-year-old daughter, Star.

Fellow mom of an enrolled 11-year-old girl, Shelly Desouza, said, “We’ve got to push girls-only sports. There’s so much little-girl drama and meanness that sports help girls develop skills they need to teach the ornery ones to get along with others.”

Stuart High is located in the lower-income area of Fairfax County, making the free clinic that much more relevant for parents on a budget.

Desouza – who’s trying to expose her daughter, Maggie, to every sport before she reaches the high school from Glasgow Middle School – said other sports camps can cost upwards of $100.

“This clinic opens the doors to children who’d otherwise wouldn’t have been able to come if they had to pay,” she added.

The mothers also noticed the Ponton’s persistent encouragement given to the girls, no matter what their playing level.

“Sharon’s great with compliments for the girls. She’s always positive even if a girl is just so-so. She’ll stop what she’s doing to teach the girls the right way to do this and that, and it’s great,” said Desouza, adding the helpful addition of the high school mentors.

The last clinic takes place next Thursday at Stuart High, after which Ponton “hopes this clinic has taught them to have confidence and take risks, and that they don’t have to be best to try something new.”

Follow Ponton’s clinic online at www.refresheverything.com/servingforsuccess.