By Phil Brozynski
For several years, we have had to listen to high school P.A. announcers across Illinois say, "When Illinois kids play games, they play with Wilson balls."
Well, no more.
The Illinois High School Association's contract with Wilson will end at the end of this school year. The IHSA has entered into a new five-year agreement with Washington-based Baden Sports, Inc., the official ball provider of the Chicago Bulls, to provide balls for the IHSA's various state series.
Reaction about the change is mixed among Illinois volleyball coaches. Many would prefer to see the IHSA endorse Molten as the official volleyball for the boys and girls state tournaments. Others are concerned about the price of Baden balls.
However, most were universal in their condemnation of the old Wilson balls.
"The Baden volleyball has been around for a while," said Walther Lutheran's Mara Schmidt. "I am not a fan as I feel it is hard to get them inflated properly so they tend to feel hard. The Wilson volleyballs were terrible, however, so switching is a good idea."
Marist's Bob St. Leger also likes the switch.
"The Wilson balls were not very durable at all," he said. "After using them everyday in practice, I always had to buy new balls the next year which obviously was expensive. Hopefully the Baden balls will be more durable.
"What the state should use are Molten volleyballs," he added. "These are the balls used in USA Volleyball and at the collegiate level."
Evanston's Mike McDermott also endorses the Molten.
"In my experience, the top of the line Baden volleyball is of a higher quality and consistency than any of the Wilson balls that we have used," he said. "If given the choice, our players would prefer the Molten Pro Touch, which is what they use in club all season."
Here is a sampling of what some other coaches are saying:
"It took us many years to get all the Tachikara balls out of our gym and replace them with Wilson. Now task begins again of slowly replacing all the balls in our gym again. I am interested in seeing how the ball reacts and what the feel of the ball is to the players." - Cary-Grove's Patty Langanis.
"Baden makes a better volleyball than Wilson. The feel between the volleyballs are different. Volleyball players who play club or in college will more than likely be using a Molten or a Baden ball. I personally prefer the Molten to the Baden, but the Baden is a step up from Wilson." - Lake Forest's Ray Werner.
"We have used Baden and it has been acceptable. However, I understand that the price of the ball that they are using for the state tournament is $100. There is no way that high school teams are going to be able to afford to use the ball to practice with." - St. Charles' Jennie Kull.
"They are good quality balls. Just like every other ball supplier... you have good quality, more expensive models as well as cheap, not so good products. The switch will not effect volleyball as far as I'm concerned." - Naperville North's Roger Strausberger.
"Baden has a high quality volleyball. I can't comment on the other sports, but Baden has been associated with volleyball for years." - Waubonsie Valley's Al Lagger.
"I can say, at least for volleyball, it is a step in the right direction. Nobody plays volleyball with a Wilson except at state tournament time. They were terrible volleyballs that did not hold up at all. At Glenbrook South, we would go through about 10 a girls season and 15 during boys." - Glenbrook South's Tim Monahan.
"I have heard of Baden, but I've mostly seen them as P.E. class volleyballs rather than competitive volleyballs. I have never used their quality volleyballs. The fact of the matter is most of the top players have to adjust to the Wilson volleyballs because clubs use the Molten balls. They will just have to adjust to something different. In volleyball I don't think too many people were in love with the Wilson volleyballs anyway, so the adjustment may end up being for the better." - former St. Charles North and Naperville North coach Brad Mitchell.
"As far as volleyball is concerned, Baden is a far superior product than the Wilson. Both Baden and Molten have been the preferred ball for collegiate and international competititon for the last 10 years or so. All boys and girls club organizations use one of those two balls. The Wilson ball is OK, but it does not hold up well over time. I have to replace Wilson balls about every two or three seasons. I am happy about the decision to switch." - Maine South coach Gary Granell.
"They make a better ball than Wilson, but not close to Molten or Tachikara. Molten is the official ball of the NCAAs, USAVB and internationally. It would make sense to go with them, but that never seems to be the case." - former Addison Trail coach Tom Hubner.
"Baden is a well made volleyball and has been around a long time. Wilson is really not the 'popular' volleyball choice, especially at the collegiate level where they use Molten. Tachikara is another popular brand and has been around a long time like Baden. I can't speak for the other sports, but it is a great volleyball." - Mother McAuley's Jen DeJarld.
"The IHSA has us answer a bunch of questions every year about the sport, but never have they asked us what is the best ball. I have never played with a Baden ball, so it is hard to determine if it is any good. But I guess what I am confused about is why they don't want our thoughts about what is the best. The Wilson ball was just OK, so I am sure everyone will forgot once the season gets going..assuming the Baden ball is decent. Hopefully they have our best interest in mind and this is just not a deal for money." - Addison Trail coach Brad Baker.
"I have heard of Baden but have never used the balls in volleyball. I do know that some of the vendors are quoting the prices of the balls and they are around $10 higher for volleyball, football, basketball and baseballs. The only ball that was cheaper were the softballs. I do not know the quality of the balls for any sport. I do know that it will be expensive to change the balls out as most coaches would like to practice and play with the ones that are used for the state series." - Edwards County's Linda Brown.
"Now if they would just make the rule change for the colored ball. Of course, that's probably two or three years away." - Glenbrook South's Tim Monahan.