Morehouse College makes history with men’s volleyball program

Morehouse College outside hitter Bryce Pretlow goes to the net against Life University right side hitter Jakaris Brown with teammate Williams Babalola also defending during a set in their volleyball match Feb. 16 in Marietta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Combined ShapeCaption
Morehouse College outside hitter Bryce Pretlow goes to the net against Life University right side hitter Jakaris Brown with teammate Williams Babalola also defending during a set in their volleyball match Feb. 16 in Marietta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Morehouse College made athletic school history this month, officially launching its men’s volleyball program that was years in the making.

The Maroon Tigers played their first match Feb. 5 against Webber International University, two years and five months after receiving a grant that helped create the program.

“It’s awesome because it offers an opportunity for a non-traditional sport to be at an HBCU,” coach Emory Lightfoot said. “It offers an opportunity to young Black men that wouldn’t get that chance because of how few schools actually offer it. Volleyball, men’s volleyball specifically, is the fastest-growing sport in the country right now. To have it as an NCAA-sanctioned sport at Morehouse is really great.

“These guys will be remembered in not only Morehouse College’s history but also Black history as a whole.”

The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAC) received a $1 million grant from First Point Volleyball Foundation and USA Volleyball in September 2019. Morehouse joined Central State University, Benedict College, Paine College, Fort Valley State and Kentucky State as grant recipients. Play was originally set for the 2020-21 season before the COVID-19 pandemic delayed its start.

“These guys will be remembered in not only Morehouse College's history but also Black history as a whole."

- Morehouse College men's volleyball coach Emory Lightfoot

The program opened a new door for athletes such as Collin Concepcion, a Los Angeles native whose volleyball career ended with high school graduation. Now a senior, Concepcion is a co-captain for the Maroon Tigers while working on his business degree.

“It’s very important for younger Black boys and girls to understand the world is changing,” Concepcion said. “We’re seeing (recruits) from other sports not take offers from the prominent institutions, even football and basketball, (in favor of HBCUs). Deion Sanders and how he was able to bring in a top-notch athlete (Travis Hunter) to Jackson State.

“To be part of changing the way people view sports at Morehouse, and view sports at HBCUs in general, (that means a lot to us). … To be able to represent the Black community. There isn’t a well-known Black volleyball team. Just to be a face of that, a good representative of the community and be someone’s hero, it’s a humbling experience to be part of.”

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Morehouse College coach Emory Lightfoot Jr. and assistant coach Naterria Mitchell look on as their team huddles up taking the court to play Life University in a volleyball match Feb. 16 in Marietta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Morehouse College coach Emory Lightfoot Jr. and assistant coach Naterria Mitchell look on as their team huddles up taking the court to play Life University in a volleyball match Feb. 16 in Marietta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Combined ShapeCaption
Morehouse College coach Emory Lightfoot Jr. and assistant coach Naterria Mitchell look on as their team huddles up taking the court to play Life University in a volleyball match Feb. 16 in Marietta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Morehouse was first scheduled to begin play Jan. 18, one day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. That would’ve been a fitting nod to King, who attended the school. The start was delayed, instead beginning during Black History Month in February.

“It would’ve been amazing (to start immediately after MLK Day), but to do it during Black History Month, it’s important for people to be part of this history. For the next five to 10 years, someone is still going to be talking about how they went to the first volleyball game in history. … Hopefully people understand the significance of representing something bigger than yourself.”

Volleyball is one of eight sports offered at Morehouse, with baseball, basketball, cross-country, football, golf, tennis, and track and field. The Maroon Tigers’ next match is Feb. 28 at Reinhardt University.