Today I want to highlight Taylor Barnes’s story in the Christian Science Monitor about the transformative effect of volleyball among poor Brazilian children.
But first an admission that the topic of volleyball reminds me (incongruously) of the movie A Thousand Clowns, in which an out-of-work writer goes around New York City fulfilling lifetime ambitions such as standing on Park Avenue at dawn and hollering, “All right, all you rich people; everybody out in the street for volleyball.”
OK. Got that off my chest. Back to Brazil.
“Roberto Bosch’s volleyball school was getting nowhere,” writes Barnes. “Then he invited kids from the slums to join for free.
“The gangly [Bosch] joined his first volleyball club at age 12; before he was old enough to drive, he was already under contract and being paid for playing the sport. In college, Betinho, as he is known [in Rio], dropped out of his classes in economics to travel with a professional team. When he competed in the youth world championships in Italy at age 20, he was considered the best player on earth.
“But health concerns made him leave pro volleyball just as his peers were graduating from college. Soon he found he was struggling to find a new direction for his life. …
“His wife suggested he start his own volleyball school.
” ‘Given that I was really depressed, really low at the time, I didn’t think I was capable’ of running a school,’ he says. Still, he set up a volleyball court on Rio de Janeiro’s glamorous, celebrity-studded Leblon Beach.
” ‘In the beginning, it was one old net, three old balls, and one student, which was my wife,’ he recalls. …
“Then Betinho had an idea … Why not go to the public schools and offer volleyball lessons to students free of charge?”
Students from the favelas and shantytowns jumped at the chance. As the school’s reputation grew, wealthy children signed up, too. Volleyball became the great leveler in Rio. And Betinho found a purpose in life, better than the first.
Photograph: Jimmy Chalk
Roberto Bosch teaches beach volleyball on Leblon Beach in Rio de Janeiro. His students come from both local slums and wealthy neighborhoods.