The Dallas Independent Volleyball Association marks 25th year with sadness, and a vision for the future
If you want to know the difference between a group and a team, look no further than the Dallas Independent Volleyball Association.
Last month, one of the organization’s young stars, Josh Cain, died in an automobile accident. He had been with DIVA about three years, and “from a skill level, probably one of our best players,” according to Adam Cebulski, DIVA’s marketing and communications officer. “People were really shocked. The first thing people said was, ‘Is there anything we can do?’ So we did a fundraiser for his family. A lot of people would post memories on social media.”
What makes the reaction perhaps even more remarkable is that, while DIVA is usually tagged as a “gay league,” Cain himself was straight.
“It’s not often you find a 21-year-old athlete who is willing to standup like that,” Cebulski says. “He didn’t care he was associated with [a gay organization]. He became a great model.”
That kind of loyalty — a true family — is something that has long distinguished DIVA’s mission and its membership.
Long, indeed. DIVA is celebrating its 25th anniversary year right now, and its 50th official season (12-week spring and fall seasons have been around since the start, and additional summer sessions, tournaments and clinics pepper its calendar). And DIVA is only looking further ahead as it reflects on all that it has accomplished in the past.
“We’ve grown from a two-court facility at Reverchon Park to a new 12-court facility we just moved into this year in Carrollton,” says Ruben Viveros, president of DIVA.
“When we started, there were about six teams — maybe 36 people — and currently we have about 400 active, playing members on 57 teams across six skill levels of play, from novice to very skilled.”
Not only are some of the founding members still playing, but DIVA continues to attract young men and women as well, of all orientations.
“It’s probably the most competitive league [of any volleyball league] in Dallas and especially at the higher levels, where you see more straight individuals. A male and female met through DIVA, and they got married!” says Cebulski.
Certainly the jocks are attracted to the league as an outlet for their competitive edge, but what has long been DIVA’s appeal both as an athletic and a social organization is that it welcomes all levels of play.
“The game is easy to understand, it’s only six people, and everyone who pays will play,” says Viveros.
“I think the reason we [attract a wide range of members] is the varying levels of play we offer,” adds Cebulski. “We have a draft process — you don’t have to have a team to be on before you sign up. There’s no pressure to already come in knowing people. It’s a non-intimidating atmosphere.”
In Cebulski’s case, he moved to Dallas from Chicago three years ago, where he was already deeply involved in the gay volleyball league. But joining DIVA was two-fold.
“I knew I would seek out DIVA to play, but I also knew I didn’t know anyone here, so it was a way to meet people,” he says.
“It’s very social — you can’t hide that fact,” agrees Viveros. He opines, though, that the welcoming attitude also gives many LGBT folks a chance to be accepted on a field that they may have been denied in their youth.
“We have a lot of members who have never played sports before, and it’s amazing how competitive they can be,” Viveros says. “Many of our members are in their late 30s to mid 40s and may have had a difficult time playing organized sports in high school because they weren’t as confident or didn’t have enough support. I know I didn’t, and
I’m a little older than that.
“It’s as much an opportunity to play and help people bloom,” he continues. “I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and say, ’Without DIVA, I could have gone the other way [into introversion]. I have heard that countless times.”
And with an evangelical zeal, DIVA is always looking to add members, fans and supporters. Although the current season is half over, there are always ways to become wrapped up in their volleyball net.
“We had an entry in the Pride parade,” Viveros says. “We are known for the Miss DIVA Pageant, which always benefits the Resource Center, but we also have a bachelor auction. And our end-of-season tournament is coming up.”
There’s also the Dallas Fall Classic, now in its 24th year and, as always, set for the same weekend as the Texas-OU game (Oct. 10–12). And on Halloween night is the annual Pumpkin Bumpkin game. “Everyone arrives in costume and we randomly draw teams,” Cebulski says. There are costume contests and refreshments, but mostly there’s the camaraderie that makes being a part of DIVA seem like a family.
To learn more, visit DIVADallas.org.
DIVA is always active, but during this milestone year, “we’re doing things with more intention,” says marketing manager Adam Cebulski. Here’s a rundown of events:
NAGVA Fall Classic Tournament — welcomes teams from across Texas. Oct. 10–12. Play at Integrated Athletic Development (IAD) in Carrollton; public events at Woody’s.
Pumpkin Bumpkin Tournament — This annual Halloween tourney pits randomly-selected teams against one another in full costume. Oct. 31. At IAD.
Miss DIVA All-Stars — Former winners compete for the 25th anniversary. Nov. 9. At the Round-Up Saloon.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 26, 2014.