In 1994, the Roosevelt Rough Riders walked into the Mitchell High School gymnasium wearing something that caught the eyes of the Kernel volleyball players. It was spandex.
"We were wondering what the heck they were wearing," said Mitchell's Melanie Puetz-Mullenmeister, who was on the squad. "You wouldn't have caught us dead in those bun-huggers."
Puetz-Mullenmeister was a junior when the tight-fitting attire was introduced to the high school level of South Dakota volleyball. While her team was wearing baggy shorts and long-sleeved, loose-fitting, V-neck tops, Roosevelt players were some of the first to wear the tighter uniforms the sport sees regularly today.
By the time Puetz-Mullenmeister was a senior, Mitchell's volleyball uniforms were evolving. That season, the 1995 year that resulted in a state championship, the Kernels sported the same baggy shorts but opted for short-sleeved tops. Mitchell has since changed to spandex shorts.
Jo Auch, an assistant executive director of the South Dakota High School Activities Association, has been involved with volleyball since 1990, when she was head coach at Menno High School's then-new program.
"We started out wearing old basketball uniforms because we didn't have anything else," Auch said. "As time went on, the sports started to differentiate."
Most schools order uniforms every five to seven years. In sports like football, basketball, wrestling and gymnastics, uniform styles are basically the same no matter the school. Among the 162 schools that participate in volleyball, though, styles range from lengthier, baggy shorts to spandex shortshorts. While the tighter-fitting shorts far outnumber the baggier variety, there are conflicting views throughout the state on whether the more revealing attire is appropriate for high school girls.
Rules and regulations
Volleyball uniform rules are dictated by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
The rules say teammates must wear "like-colored uniforms" consisting of shirts and "shorts, pants or skirts." The libero, a defensive specialist, must wear a top that is in "clear contrast and distinct from" other members of the team. Tops must hang below or be tucked into the waistband of the bottoms when the player is standing upright.
Along with the rules of the NFHS, South Dakota has rules of its own. As mentioned in the national rules, all team members must wear like-colored shorts. But the state has given athletes a choice to wear spandex or baggy shorts.
Auch said the baggy shorts are allowed because of player and parent complaints about spandex.
"I've had a few phone calls from moms who don't want their daughters wearing spandex," she said. "We made options available so we could accommodate those people."
Sandy Nightingale, White Lake player Maria Nightingale's mother, said she doesn't oppose spandex, which the White Lake administration has rejected.
"I think our girls should wear them because I think they can move a lot better," she said. "I do know ordering spandex was brought to the board and it wasn't passed, so I'm assuming some parents are against it."
Travis Cheeseman, father of Hanson players Kynedi and Kendra Cheeseman, said he doesn't have an issue with tight uniforms because his daughters feel comfortable in them.
"It's not something that has ever been brought up to me," Cheeseman said. "As far as I know, the kids don't have any issues with it and haven't complained."
A majority of the state has converted to wearing spandex or tightfitting uniforms, including all 17 schools in the biggest class, AA.
Rapid City Central assistant coach Brynn Birkeland said the Cobblers have worn spandex for years.
"We have a diverse group of kids who try out for our team," Birkeland said. "As far as I know, we haven't had issues with the uniforms. The spandex is a part of what we wear and is accepted."
Steve Randall, Platte-Geddes athletic director, said he thinks one reason some kids choose to wear the spandex is to fit in and escape harassment.
"I find that some girls would rather be a little uncomfortable in spandex rather than wear shorts," Randall said. "I think a big part of wearing the spandex and wearing what other schools wear is so that the girls or girl doesn't get made fun of."
Randall added that most players from Platte-Geddes wanted the tighter uniforms because a lot of other schools have switched to them.
Chamberlain and Lyman are among the schools that allow spandex but also have made some accommodations for those with concerns.
Chamberlain took the rules into consideration and allows players to choose spandex or shorts.
The last time the Cubs were due for new uniforms was in 2007, and the team decided to go with the tighter-fitting uniforms.
"That's what the girls wanted to do," said Rick Hargens, Chamberlain's athletic director. "However, we did order some shorts as well to give them the option."
"We had a little controversy when we switched," he added. "We had a feeling that might happen, and that's why we also ordered shorts."
Lyman volleyball co-head coach Renee Thomas, whose team ordered spandex for the first time last year, said the school chose to order longer spandex.
"Our spandex is longer than most teams out there wear," Thomas said. "We do not like the real short ones because our girls are very uncomfortable with them. Our girls are comfortable with what we have and we simply don't allow the shorter ones."
Thomas said the parents appreciated the compromise.
"Our parents had a say in ordering and made sure we bought the longer inseam spandex," she said. "They feel good knowing that their girls feel comfortable out on the floor."
Bucking the trend
Administrations at Freeman, Andes Central, White Lake, Mitchell Christian and Dakota Christian are among those who've rejected the move to spandex.
"I think the spandex are inappropriate for high school girls," Freeman Athletic Director Don Hotchkiss said. "We're buying new uniforms next year, and again we won't purchase spandex, although some of our girls would like us to."
Rocky Brinkman, Andes Central athletic director and volleyball head coach, said his school chose loose uniforms because he wants every girl to feel comfortable.
"We voted on the uniforms and we were split on the issue," Brinkman said. "If half of your girls don't feel comfortable, it's obvious what to order. We don't want to embarrass students or the parents."
The Eagles' uniform bottom is form fitting, but not as tight to the body as spandex.
Some athletic directors and coaches have found spandex to be distracting. Parkston assistant coach Meg McManus, an Alexandria native, said she was somewhat self-conscious when she played.
"When I was in high school, we just had the tight bottoms, not the tops," said McManus, who graduated in 2008. "I wasn't the biggest girl on the team, and I was even uncomfortable playing. There were a couple of girls on our team who were more worried about the uniform than playing the game."
White Lake player Rose Konechne said she is glad the administration chooses loose-fitting uniforms for the Wolverines.
"I like the loose-fitting shorts," Konechne said. "I think I'm one of the only people on our team that likes them. I do think a lot of people do like the spandex, because people say they can move easily in them."
White Lake head coach Brooke Hermsen said although the team wears baggy shorts in games, 90 percent of her team wears spandex during practice.
"I haven't seen a difference in the performance when wearing one or the other," said Hermsen, who added other sports like wrestling and gymnastics may need tight uniforms because of movements particular to those sports. "The school board rejected spandex because the girls have done pretty well the last few years, and they didn't see the need to change uniforms."
Some private schools, including Mitchell Christian and Dakota Christian, opt not to wear the tighter-fitting uniforms because of their more conservative beliefs.
"We want the uniforms to stay consistent with our school policy of being modest," Mitchell Christian Superintendent Joseph Fox said.
Administrators at both schools said the school boards chose not to vote in favor of spandex uniforms.
"The girls asked last year if they would be able to wear spandex, but I knew the board wouldn't pass it," Dakota Christian Athletic Director Shauna Vander Pol said. "I believe a lot of it has to do with representing our school in a way that glorifies God."
Vander Pol said Dakota Christian players have come to terms with wearing the loose-fitting uniforms.
"The girls complained at first but complied, and now it's not a problem," she said. "If the board allowed spandex, I think there would be a number of disgruntled parents. That would be where the issue would lie."
While those private schools seem unlikely to switch to tighter uniforms, other private schools, including Sioux Falls O'Gorman, have made the switch. Fox said he hopes students will play the sport regardless of uniforms.
"If we had a student that didn't feel comfortable wearing a uniform, I would hope that student would play due to their love and passion for the sport," Fox said. "Someone may feel uncomfortable, but whether or not they would bring that forward? I don't know."
Vander Pol added that the team has low numbers in the sport and doesn't think the uniforms are a factor.
"It doesn't take girls away because we don't wear spandex, but I don't know if it necessarily helps participation, either."
Athletes commonly strive to be like their role models in higher levels of their sport, which may partly explain the spandex phenomenon in high school volleyball.
Mitchell head coach Deb Thill said her players wear the spandex for that reason.
"Our girls choose the uniforms because that's what all (Class) AA schools and college players wear," Thill said. "We've had a lot of players play the sport after high school, so collegiate athletes are definitely ones that younger players look up to."
On the collegiate level, players have worn spandex for decades, and Olympic beach volleyball players have become infamous for their revealing, bikini-like uniforms.
Auch, of the SDHSAA, said high school players want to emulate their role models.
"In a lot of cases, kids like the style of the uniforms and enjoy looking like the top players," she said. "I only see a problem if we get to the point where our players are wearing briefs where their bottoms really show, and I don't see South Dakota getting to that point."
Platte-Geddes Athletic Director Steve Randall agreed and said the high school players want to be seen in the same light as professionals.
"Our coaches and kids were the ones who wanted to order the spandex," said Randall, who ordered spandex five years ago. "A lot of schools have gone to that, and I think it's because a lot of the colleges wear (spandex). I think it's a psychological thing more than anything."
Affecting player participation
One of the overriding questions in the uniform debate is whether a school's uniform choice impacts participation. In other words, do some girls avoid participating in volleyball because of the tight uniforms? Conversely, do other girls avoid participating in volleyball because they're embarrassed that their school is among the few that don't wear the tight uniforms?
Most of those interviewed for this story insist that uniforms do not impact participation.
Auch said she has not witnessed or heard of any student not going out for a team based on uniforms. Hargens said he didn't see a difference in participation numbers when Chamberlain switched from shorts to spandex.
"I don't believe it has changed participation for us," he said. "Girls that go out for volleyball here love the sport and feel comfortable with our uniform options."