Dallas Starlings helped changed my life drastically

My name is Quontinetta Bufford and I played for the Dallas Starlings during my four years in high school. Playing for the Starlings gave me opportunities I've never imagined possible. Living in an urban area, I had never been exposed to club volleyball, and even after I had been exposed to it the prices of playing club volleyball were not in my families' income.

By playing for the Starlings, it gave me the skills and fundamentals that some high schools don't teach. After really learning the game of volleyball I decided I wanted to take it to the next level, college. Even though I had a minor setback by having a child, I still was able to pursue my goals as a volleyball player. With the reasonable prices and college recruiters that were looking at our team, I was able to go on to play collegiate level volleyball. I decided to attend Cedar Valley College; it is a local community college in the Dallas area. Even though I chose not to attend a university, many others on my club team did. My first year attending Cedar Valley, we became National Champions. Not many people can say they have won a title of such honor, and without the help of my experience with the Starlings, I wouldn't be able to say it either.

Dallas Starlings helped changed my life drastically and for that I am forever thankful. They taught me life lessons in which I shall never forget. Let not what you cannot do, tear from your hands what you can do. Meaning that as teenagers we have no control over our family's income, but we do have control over our future. Dallas Starlings gives players an opportunity of a lifetime, and in return we become better, well rounded, exposed and educated individuals, which is a plus for our society.

Thank you,
Quontinetta Bufford
Dallas Starlings Member 2000-2004
Freshman at CVCC


My daughter played her first ever season of volleyball with Starlings. At first, she was shy, scared, and intimidated by girls who had been playing a while. She went to all of her practices and games. At Nationals she didn't play much because her serves didn't make it over the net. She was mad...

Every day since, that kid has been outside in our alley using a clothesline as a net for hours...

Now she eats, sleeps and thinks about what she needs to work on, how she is going to achieve it, and follows through. This kind of thinking is such a fabulous lesson in life. Her attitude has changed, she is eager to learn new things, and is not scared to try something new.

Her coach was certainly was a huge part in this. She is amazing! My daughter needed coaching, and now she just made the freshman team at her school.

Wow... what an amazing learning experience. It is not just volleyball... It is life.


To me, Starlings is a way of life.

Starlings. A simple nine lettered word. What does it mean? What does it symbolize? What does it represent? Naively, anyone would say that Starlings is a club — a volleyball club — a girls' volleyball club — a widespread girls' volleyball club. But so, what? Why is Starlings such an amazing program?

For starters, Starlings isn't just about volleyball. It teaches us how to set goals and how to get across the bumps in the road we're all maneuvering along — the road to success.

Starlings has allowed me to realize that in order to succeed and progress in life, I have to first learn how to be a person.

Through this Starlings path I've taken, I have learned to increase my self-esteem, to enhance my academic achievements and to live a healthy life. And through this process, I have met a group of the most wonderful people in the world. All of these things make up a part of who I am today. To me, Starlings is a way of life.

Lili Sun
10th grade
New York City Starlings

I will never forget the memories.

Having a chance to be a player for the Starlings is something that I cherish a lot, and I am going to miss playing for them. I am a senior this year, so this is my last season as a "playing" member of the club, but I will never forget the memories. And I know that I can always come home to be part of the club. Coach says she can always find something for us older girls to do.

I sometimes wish I could be a little girl all over just so I could represent Starlings Volleyball Club, Indianapolis, on the volleyball court again.

Alana Lewis
12th grade
Starlings Indianapolis


If it was not for this club in Baltimore, we would not have a chance to play volleyball at a competitive level.

My name is Tyshae Hunter and I have been a part of the Baltimore Starlings program for five years. I’ve had many experiences playing at different levels, and I have met a lot of people from around the world. I attend Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore, Maryland. I am a senior and would like to play in college. I have met many college coaches and played in many tournaments, but this couldn’t have been possible if it wasn't for the Baltimore Starlings program. This is one of the clubs that is affordable and doesn’t cost thousands of dollars to play.

We pick up teammates some mornings who don’t have a ride, and we donate an item from our lunch so that every player can get something to eat. If it was not for this club in Baltimore, we would not have a chance to play volleyball at a competitive level.

Tyshae Hunter
Baltimore Starlings, 2017


The Brevard Starlings team represents a family to which our kids can always belong.

In a letter to Starlings' Executive Director Byron Shewman, a parent shared her thoughts about Fred Howell, coach of the Brevard County, Florida, Starlings club.

Dear Mr. Shewman,

I am writing to you to let you know how much I and many other parents appreciate Coach Fred Howell and the local Starlings organization. I have personally witnessed Coach Howell give everything he has to his protégés and mentor them into their future successes. I am not sure how Starlings works as far as how things are funded from the top down but I wanted to let you know that I have reached out to several organizations seeking corporate sponsorship for our Brevard Starlings team because of the economic hardships that many of our Starlings families endure.

I also wanted to sing praises about your faithful volunteer. You should be well pleased with Coach Fred’s leadership and endless dedication. I have witnessed Coach Fred and his volunteer coaches exercise exemplary care and concern with our inner-city youth! I personally know that it is not an easy undertaking to mentor people from various backgrounds and severely disadvantaged communities. But he faithfully shows us that he sincerely cares what happens to our kids. He speaks truth, wisdom, and empowerment into each child as if they were his own. He even makes sure that every child that comes to the Starlings is fed both physically and emotionally. Coach Fred and his team seamlessly dedicate all of their time and financial resources for the love of the community, the love of the game, and for the love of our children! I have never seen another human care so much that it is everything they identify by. They literally care for the whole person. Our children and parents look up to the Brevard Starlings and their leadership as true Community Leaders! I am overwhelmed to know how much Coach Fred and his team have dedicated to the Brevard Starlings and our county. The Brevard Starlings team represents a family to which our kids can always belong. They bring so much to the table that I can’t express my gratitude enough! I am not sure if Coach Fred and his staff are ever compensated for what they do, but I wanted to let you know that he is a person who deserves to be compensated in more ways that just financial. It is my honor to know them and to be able to volunteer under their superior service.

Lastly, Coach Fred and his staff make sure to exercise their connections within the community to make sure that each child is also mentored by the right college/university representatives that specialize in Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics studies! This is a priceless asset! Thank you so much for allowing them to be part of your great organization!

Sally B. Maldonado

Starlings are strangers on a team that become sisters.

Starlings is girls coming together from different cultures, religions, and backgrounds. Where everyone is equal but recognizing that we are all one in a million. Starling are from different universes put under one sky. Where superstars become comfortable with their own style. Starlings are strangers on a team that become sisters.

And last of all, Starlings is chasing your greatest dream and becoming an unforgettable athlete. We are all Starlings.

Jessica Slim
9th grade
Starlings Otay Ranch, California


Starlings provided me the opportunity to play a sport and stay away from the life that most expected me to have.

In this first-person account, Ashley Mello, who played for the San Diego City club, explains her history and the effect her participation in Starlings had on her life.

For most of us, we usually can recollect back to about the age of three years old with memories of watching our favorite cartoons or running around the playground. Unfortunately, my memories consist of being taken to urgent care over and over again just to find out I had the flu, an earache or strep throat. The solution was numerous medications that never quite seem to make me feel any better. I’ll never forget being at home laying on the couch in the middle of my siblings playing and just feeling lifeless, wishing I could join them, but my pain and weakness didn’t allow me.
Weeks turned into months and my condition was only getting worse, before doctors agreed to do a blood test. I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. I was rushed to the emergency room and had to immediately undergo two blood transfusions, chemotherapy and several surgeries. After months in the hospital, with the support of my family, doctors and nurses, I was announced cured and I was considered to be in remission. Too young to realize that I defeated one of life’s most challenging battles, little did I know the fight was just beginning.

I come from a family of seven, where both my parents were plagued with drug addiction. This brought about many evictions due to financial instability, which led to living in hotels and only having a trash bag full of belongings. Instead of dwelling on the situation, my reaction was always “What can I do?”

My fighter mentality continued. My number one priority was being there for my siblings, which meant setting the best example so we could all make a different path for ourselves, despite the cards dealt. Whether I had to wake up two hours early to find the nearest means of public transportation, I was going to make it to school no matter what.

Although an education is essential, my heart and soul were also set on playing sports. My passion, my happiness, my outlet, my safety net and the one thing that was stable in my life. Volleyball.

Only being in sixth grade and coming from a low-income family did not equal the opportunity to play club volleyball. Thanks to Byron [Shewman], his love for volleyball and his eagerness to impact the lives of so many youth, Starlings was created. Starlings provided me the opportunity to play a sport and stay away from the life that most expected me to have. Whether it was practice after school or tournaments on weekends, while on the court I always had a smile on my face, I always was making friends who turned into family and always practicing to be a team player, to never give up and to keep on fighting. What I consider to be some of the most important qualities a person can learn.

After about seven years of playing Starlings and High School Volleyball, I went on to study Social Work and graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a Bachelor’s in Social Work in 2011. Being able to use my hardships, turned achievements, to help others is a dream come true. I continued my education and went on to obtain my Master’s Degree in Social Work at San Diego State University in 2014.

As I reflect back, the days that shine the brightest, and I am most thankful for, are those on the court playing volleyball. I could not be more grateful for Starlings and the opportunity it gives so many inner-city girls to be aspiring athletes.

Going back to that priority of mine to set a good example for my siblings, it was a success. My younger sister who also played Starlings will be graduating from college with her Business Marketing degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Although both of us did not go on to play volleyball in college, playing pepper in the sand at the beach is our favorite thing to do.

Ashley Mello
San Diego City Starlings player


I use my fingers a lot
I push words through them and a pen
I make things of wood and metal
But my favorite thing by far is
And every time I hear the word
My mind constricts and feels the grip of the emotion I get
When the ball hits my arms and
I send it up to the moon in the sky
And my favorite time to do this is with my Starlings birds
When we tumble over the court seamless as one team
And sometimes we are better than others
But every time I find myself wondering to my mind
“when will I play with these birds again?”
And my mind whispers back

Grace Rotermund
9th grade
Omaha Starlings
Winning entry in the 2017 Starlings Literary/Art Contest


The tweet of the whistle
The flight of the ball as it flutters over the net
And swoops through the other team's arms
It perches gently on the floor for a point.

The cage of the net is waiting to pull me in
To capture my flight through the air.
Don't touch it or I'll be trapped
Not able to soar.

My flock of teammates enables me to fly,
Fast and strong we climb together.
Every win the wind beneath our wings,
Every loss a stepping stone.

Flock behind me,
The flight of the Starling allows me to sail
To heights I only dreamed of reaching.
No longer alone, I glide through the clouds.

Lessons learned with my bevy:
Perseverance, teamwork, and love for the flight.
My compass in the nebulous world,
Clearing the skies and uncertainty.

Navigating my way home,
My life: the flight of the Starling.

Megan Upp
8th grade
Mission Bay, California



It makes my days a little better
It fills my life with glee
It is volleyball
It is ME

It devours me and consumes me
It is my drug

But it's my ANTI-DRUG

Sweat, pain, adrenaline
Pumping with each pass I make
Hungry and thirsty for the bruises, scrapes, burns and breaks
The white ball soaring in the air
I wait
Until that chance, that only chance
To hit it and kill it straight into the floor
Really, what more can you ask for?

It's my drug

But it's my ANTI-DRUG

I can't get enough, I need it to sustain my meaningless life
Without volleyball, I don't think I could survive
My inspirations, my dreams, my hopes derive from this sport
Just to be part of a team and to be inside the court

What can I say, it's my drug,

But guess what?


Daisy Lopez
11th grade
South Gate, California


I’m greatly in debt to the Starlings program because it gives people the chance to do what they enjoy the most without worrying about where they will get the money from. In a poverty-stricken city like the one I live in, it’s good to know that you can do what you like without having the stress of paying thousands of dollars.

Portia Walker
12th grade
Baltimore Starlings


In emails to Navajo Starlings Director Ken Rutan, parents shared their thoughts on the Starlings experience.


My daughter Makena and I came to Sunday's practice for the first time. She had played one session at the YMCA and then ended up breaking her finger at school playing volleyball! She was very nervous to start over with a new place and new girls. I could tell right off the bat you were very organized and coaches were engaged and really taking the time to make corrections in a very positive way. Needless to say, I was very impressed and already knew this was a great fit for her. It was what she told me on the way home that really impressed me. I could see that she was feeling overwhelmed because most of the girls in her age group had excellent skills and she still has some work to do. [A coach] told her don't worry! He could tell by the look on her face that she was frustrated and he told her she was there to work on her skills and he (and the other coaches) would help her! She told me after he talked to her, she felt so much better and more relaxed and able to focus! She talked about volleyball for like an hour after we got home and can't wait until next Sunday all because of a few words from a coach... WOW. AMAZING. THANK YOU.

Nicole Tayson

We are very impressed with how Starlings is run, and we couldn't be happier with the program.

My name is Christy Walsingham and my daughter Kaylie Walsingham is playing her first year with Starlings. I wanted to send you this email to let you know how much we are enjoying the Starlings Volleyball league. We are very impressed with how Starlings is run, and we couldn’t be happier with the program. I also wanted to express to you how much we love Kaylie’s coach Nicole Kurtz. Her knowledge of the game and how she interacts with the girls is truly outstanding. Kaylie enjoys being on her team and we are blown over by how much her skills have improved in such a short time and we owe it all to Nichole. Her patience with the girls and her ability to teach is above and beyond! She truly is a role model and we couldn’t ask for a better one for our daughter. Thanks for all you do - it is much appreciated.

Christy Walsingham