Kathy DeBoer – a Volleyball Legend with a Mission that Paved the Way

Kathy Deboer volleyball legend

Kathy DeBoer is a legend in the volleyball community. The outlasting impact she has made in the 42 years of her career can be seen in every area she touched through her time as an athlete, a coach, an administrator, and ultimately the Executive Director of the AVCA. As the official partner of the AVCA, Sports Imports has felt extremely fortunate to work alongside DeBoer in growing the sport, and to have the opportunity to learn first handedly how her experiences have shaped her life and the environment she has worked in. 

From a young age, DeBoer knew sports would be her thing. She focused mostly on basketball and tennis, but over time volleyball made its way into her life. “I was terrible at volleyball, and so were my teammates so it really wasn’t fun until college when we could keep the ball in play,” DeBoer said. She attended Michigan State University, where she played both volleyball and basketball and as of 2022 DeBoer has been an inductee of the Michigan State University Athletics Hall of Fame.

“I applied for both basketball and volleyball jobs after playing two years of professional basketball. I got a volleyball job. I jokingly say to my basketball friends if I would have gotten a basketball job, I’d be a millionaire!”

Her volleyball coaching career took off at Ferris State University in 1980. After that, she worked as head coach at the University of Kentucky, where she led her team to play in four NCAA Championships and win three Southeastern Conference Championships. 

One of her fondest memories as an intercollegiate coach is when Cliff Hagan, the Athletic Director at Kentucky at the time, came to the match in which DeBoer and her team beat LSU in five to win the Southeastern Conference Championship. “He was really excited, which was really unusual, and I’ll never forget the bear hug he gave me after the match,” said DeBoer.

Thinking back on her intercollegiate coaching years, DeBoer shares her guidance to those in coaching positions. “Coaching is a lifestyle more than it is a job. If you want to work in a field that will take everything from you-all your energy, all your passion-then it’s an incredible way to make a life. If you don’t you’ll be frustrated and miserable. You can’t do it halfway,” said DeBoer.

DeBoer’s long-time dedication to the profession as both an advocate and leader for other coaches is truly admirable. With her own coaching career wrapped up, DeBoer continued working at the University of Kentucky for nine more years and took her next steps, working first in administration and later in the role of Senior Associate Athletics Director. In her work, she did amazing things for the University, including campaigning for $30 million dollars that went to an outdoor tennis stadium, a softball/soccer complex, a football offices complex, and an academic center.

“I raised the money to turn an old indoor pool into a state-of-the-art academic support center. There was a lot of joy in our department about helping kids reach their academic goals,” DeBoer said.

She created an endowment seat program that raised money for student-athlete scholarships. “I believed that intercollegiate athletics was a tool for empowerment, and I coached a lot of women who were the first in their family to go to college. Club was just getting organized, and we did most of our recruiting in high schools.”

Enter 2006: DeBoer takes the role of Executive Director of the AVCA-the position that the entire volleyball community came to know her passion for the growing sport. All the way up through the year 2023, DeBoer led and transformed the AVCA. “When I took the job, my goals were to make the AVCA more connected to the volleyball community and to expand the membership to include high schools and club coaches.” Working with the AVCA was special in that “our role was to support the entire community and we had the only event, the AVCA Convention, that could gather everyone in one place,” DeBoer said. As executive director, she made monumental steps for the sport.

DeBoer was a remarkable figure in her initial advocacy and fight for women’s beach volleyball and in 2016 women’s beach volleyball became an NCAA official championship sport. She brought about significant partnerships with 35 regions of USA Volleyball, the Junior Volleyball Association, and 21 volleyball coaches associations. Membership of the AVCA increased by thousands due to her work, and she used her fundraising skills to support new men’s college and high school boys’ volleyball programs.

In her time, DeBoer has celebrated wins, faced and overcame trials, but ultimately has accomplished actions that have improved the sport for all. “My whole life has been searching for legitimacy as an athlete and a woman. Volleyball is uniquely positioned to prove that a women’s sport can make it without a more popular, better-funded male counterpart,” DeBoer said.

As 42 years of her inspiring, transformative career comes to a close, DeBoer sums up both her legacy and advice to others with the words printed on an AVCA keychain: DREAM BIG!