Kellogg volleyball returns

After five years without a team, Kellogg Elementary School fielded a volleyball team this season with 16 seventh- and eighth-graders. The team practices twice a week and participates in the Graver Park league.

Mike Panozzo wanted to organize a girls volleyball team at Kellogg Elementary School, but each year, the P.E. teacher’s idea would get shot down.

No coach, no league, no money, Panozzo heard all the excuses, but he kept trying.

Now, after a five-year absence, the Kellogg Wolfpack volleyball team has returned with 16 players on its roster.

“Finally this year, we said we were going to do it and get it together,” Panozzo said. “A parent said she would host an open gym, and if the girls came out for it, I’ll get it going. Twenty girls came out. It really came together overnight.”

Back in action, the Wolfpack practices twice a week at the school and has jumped headfirst into the Graver Park League that plays on Thursdays.

The team was assembled so quickly that Kellogg needed a bye the first week of the league so the girls could hold a practice first.

“I’ve got grad school Thursday nights, so I ditched class that first week because we needed someone to coach the first game,” Panozzo said with a laugh. “I was frantically asking parents to help coach. We needed a long-term solution.”

Panozzo found that solution in Maggie Holton, a Kellogg parent who’s daughter, Deborah, is an eighth-grader on the team.

“It’s my daughter’s last year at Kellogg, and she really wanted to play volleyball,” Holton said. “Deborah let me know there wasn’t a coach available, and it was important to her; so I volunteered.”

The team is comprised of seventh- and eighth-graders and has been working ever since. Some players have experience with the sport, but for the most part, the majority of the Wolfpack is relatively new to volleyball.

Holton had played volleyball before but never coached. Still, she had a secret weapon in mind to aid the cause.

“Let me tell you, YouTube was a hit for me,” Holton said with a smile. “A friend of mine, Theresa Jenkins, has also really helped me out. It was just learning to get your feet wet again with volleyball. As a team, we didn’t know the fundamentals.”

The goals started off small, like serving consistently in the first match. From there, it was baby steps. A newcomer to the sport, Deborah has experienced marked improvement, both personally and with the team.

“I was one of the girls who had never really touched a volleyball or knew what to do to get it over the net,” Deborah said. “We’ve come a long way. We work as a team more, and we’ve bonded.”

According to eighth-grader Emily Nelson, the Wolfpack has caught the volleyball bug. It isn’t just two practices and a match a week for many players. The sport comes home with them, too.

“A lot of us try to practice at home. We’ve got to practice harder and longer than other teams,” Nelson said. “Those first couple games were pretty nerve-wracking because we didn’t know what to expect. We aren’t so nervous now.”

While the team has experienced growing pains through its first season, it has also enjoyed positives as the Kellogg community, including parents, students and faculty, has gotten behind the team.

“Parents and teachers are coming out to the games, and I’ve got boys in classes coming up and asking how the team is doing,” Panozzo said. “It’s very positive and very supportive. The success has not come yet, but it’s close. There is some hype, and the girls are into it.”

Kellogg is still winless this season but is showing signs of improvement. A recent match at Graver Park went to overtime with high energy, and the enthusiasm was evident, even after the defeat for the Wolfpack.

“We started off barely knowing how to hit the ball, and now we’re bumping and setting and spiking it back over,” Nelson said. “We started from the bottom, and we’ve come so far.”

In helping bring the team together, Panozzo, a 2009 Marian Catholic High School graduate, credited Coach Holton for volunteering for the position. He also praised the support he has received from other parents and volunteers.

In his third year at Kellogg, Panozzo is searching for some new equipment for the volleyball team. The Wolfpack has to use a volleyball net that has seen better days. Anyone interested in helping the team can contact him at mpanozzo@cps.edu.

“I’ve heard a lot of stories about how Kellogg was a big, bad powerhouse in sports,” Panozzo said. “When I got here, it was in shambles. A few key people left, and no one picked up the mantle. I’m trying to pick up where we left off. We definitely want to keep expanding athletically.”

Deborah Holton agreed with Panozzo, and she said her classmates have taken notice.

“A lot of students think it is pretty cool,” Deborah said. “Sixth-graders can’t wait to get to seventh grade so they can participate. That’s something they’re looking forward to. There are a lot of positives.”

The Kellogg Wolfpack volleyball team includes Makayla Garrett, Jada White, Mia Wallace, Pekahiah Pearson, Amber Payne, Brianna Watson, Maia Pinnock, Divinity Braboy-Dorsey, Emily Nelson, Deborah Holton, Jaimee Mayze, Nadia Jackson, Ore Oloko, Jamirah Watson, Mariah Williams, D’Aydra Beans and Leann Gladney.