May 2, 2007

New San Mateo Starlings Volleyball Club Spikes Interest of Low-Income Girls

A new local chapter of a national volleyball organization helps low-income San Mateo girls join tournaments instead of gangs. Starlings Volleyball Clubs USA, San Mateo Chapter was started to help girls make the right life choices.

Recently begun and with 22 girls now in the club, the San Mateo Chapter is already over capacity. "I couldn't turn anyone down," says Liz Mayta, Founder and Director of Starlings Volleyball Club USA San Mateo Chapter. Based at Bayside Middle School in San Mateo, the club's mission is to help minority and low-income girls develop athletic skills, learn about healthy eating and exercise habits, stay away from drugs and gangs, do well in school and go on to college. The school's athletic director, Leo Fonseca, is the San Mateo team's coach. The ethnic make-up of the club is similar to Bayside's students -- most of the girls are African-American, Pacific Islander and Hispanic.

Part of National Sports Organization for Girls

The San Mateo Chapter is part of Starlings Volleyball Clubs USA. In Northern California, the other two Starlings USA chapters are in Oakland and Watsonville. Begun 11 years ago with one team in San Diego, Starlings now serves 2,500 girls playing in 38 clubs in 18 states. Starlings provides an opportunity for girls aged 10 to 18 to participate regardless of their socioeconomic background. Club dues, if any, are a fraction of the cost of most Junior Clubs, and no girl is turned away because of inability to pay. Financial support comes from private donations and grants.

"With typical yearly volleyball club dues of $1,700, this sport wouldn't be available to most of our club members," notes Mayta. She adds that sixty-two percent of Bayside students receive free or reduced-cost lunches.

Healthy Eating Stressed at Practices

Along with her Starlings San Mateo Chapter responsibilities, Mayta, a Certified Public Accountant, volunteers as Director of Accounting and Development for Starlings USA. She is also a co-chair of the San Mateo County Health Dept's Prevention of Childhood Obesity Task Force. Mayta feels her interest in the area of childhood obesity fits right in with her Starlings club noting that many of the girls come from populations that have been hard-hit by the child obesity crisis.

Mayta attends all practices, bringing water and healthy snacks. She bans junk food and beverages and often works in a mini nutrition lesson such as "how to read a food label." Mayta says the girls love the snacks and often the first question she hears is "What's on the menu?"

As word of the program has spread, so has the excitement among potential members. The organization recently held its first Northern California Starlings Tournament and Barbecue. "I expected around 25 girls," says Mayta. "Then I heard that 60 people were planning to come."

For more information about Starlings contact Liz Mayta at [email protected] or visit