At 6-feet-4-inches – and still three months away from his 16th birthday – Galen Dodd might have been expected to play basketball. There’s pressure to do so on every tall boy.
But Galen prefers volleyball. He appreciates the mental aspect of the game, along with its physical challenges. “I like to use my mind,” the Southern California native says. “I like being mentally fit, not just physically in shape.”
Galen is as intelligent and articulate as he is a powerful middle blocker and opposite hitter on his high school and club teams. He’s also courageous. In August he came out publicly – to the world. Two months later he told his story on Outsports. He is believed to be the youngest athlete ever to do so on that website.
But this is 2011, not 1951 (or even 2006). Galen’s teammates, coaches – even opponents – have been, he says, “100 percent supportive.” In some cases, his openness has helped solidify friendships between Galen and straight teammates. That’s impressive – even more so when you learn that a number of his club teammates attend an all-boys Catholic school. “The younger generation is a lot more accepting than their parents,” Galen says simply.
In fact, after coming out Galen has met “a lot” of openly gay volleyball players, both male and female.
One is Travis Turner. He is the director of Balboa Bay Volleyball Club in Newport Beach – one of the top club teams in the nation – and while Galen was on a plane to Minneapolis in July for the Junior Nationals tournament, he heard members of Travis’s team talking and joking about Travis’s sexuality “in a good way.”
Later, in Arizona for the USA Volleyball High Performance Training Camp and Championships, Galen met Travis. They talked only about volleyball, but back home in California Galen emailed him. He asked the coach about the advantages and drawbacks of coming out. A long phone conversation followed in which Travis said, “If a coach wants you and you can contribute to the team, nothing else matters.”
A couple of days later, Galen decided to come out publicly. (His family and some friends already knew.)
Galen did it the 2011 way: on Facebook. Suddenly he was engulfed in a tsunami of positive responses. Some came from players he barely knew. “They just wanted to say congratulations,” Galen explains.
After three days, he had 82 likes and 47 comments. And, Galen says, “no one deleted me.”
The Outsports story was next. It had been a source of support for Galen for months, he says, “and I just wanted to give back some of what I’d gotten.”
That story circulated quickly throughout the volleyball world. “Everyone at my club (Southern California Volleyball) saw it,” he says. “My team loved it.”
He was a bit worried about the response from his coach at Palisades Charter High School. But he too was “totally supportive,” Galen says.
A former member of the Southern California Volleyball Club sent the story – proudly – to every coach he knew. A Los Angeles teacher asked Galen to speak to the entire school. And, Galen says, he heard from several college coaches. They told him that when he’s ready to look at schools, he should know that the environment on their campuses is welcoming and accepting.
Still, Galen’s ride to out volleyball poster child was not always smooth. Last season – when many of his club teammates were from that Catholic school – he was closeted.
“Every practice I would hear some sort of comment about something or someone being ‘gay’ or a ‘fag,’” he wrote on Outsports. “Each time I cringed thinking of how I would never be able to be who I truly am with them.
“Even though those terms are not meant to be harmful, and don’t even seem relevant to what the speaker is trying to express, it has become common language among teenagers and young adults.”
But that’s all in the past. Galen’s current club team is one of the best in the country. His teammates, he says, are “11 other guys that have my back.” His two coaches are “nothing but fantastic.”
So what’s ahead for Galen Dodd? His answer is as clear as you’d expect from any high-level competitive volleyball player, gay or straight: “I am really excited about the new season. I have three more years of high school, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.”
And, he adds, “Our club volleyball team is going to Junior Nationals in Dallas. We lost in the bronze medal round last year. This time, we’re looking to win it.”
*Dan Woog is a journalist, educator, soccer coach, gay activist and author of the “Jocks” series of books on gay male athletes. Visit his website at www.danwoog.com. He can be reached care of this publication or at OutField@qsyndicate.com.