116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Volleyball becomes unexpected path for Prairie’s OJ Payne
He will attend William Penn and play volleyball this fall
CEDAR RAPIDS — OJ Payne didn’t know he would end up playing volleyball.
It wasn’t always on his radar. The 18-year-old graduating senior at Prairie High School has played sports, but it was always football and basketball. Now, in college, he will be playing volleyball for William Penn University in Oskaloosa during a time in which men’s volleyball is growing.
Currently, there are 23 Division I men’s programs, 17 in Division II and 69 in Division III. The NAIA, which William Penn is a part of, has 50 programs for men. And only 22 states have sanctioned high school volleyball for boys — Iowa not being one of them.
“I ended up getting involved through the club team, 380 Devil Dogs,” Payne said. “I’ve only been playing for three years and I liked it because we got to travel. I played really well, too, so I thought I’d stick to it.”
Payne is among 390 Prairie High School students marking their graduation Saturday at the Alliant Energy PowerHouse.
Trying a new thing and sticking to it while maintaining a positive attitude has worked out for Payne. He received a scholarship to play volleyball at William Penn.
Payne said education and sports are important to him because they’ve both been important to his family.
His mother, Melissa, is the dean of students at Kirkwood Community College, but will soon be associate co-president. His father, also named OJ, is a recruiting specialist for NCSA, the Next College Student Athlete recruiting organization.
“Every person in our family has learned and grown because of who OJ is and the grace with which he has overcome so many trials,” Melissa said. “He has truly earned this opportunity to launch into adulthood and I look forward to seeing how this next stage in his life will grow him.”
“Even as adults, when we come to a challenge that is frustrating, we tend to shut down and avoid it,“ Becky Gearheart, a Prairie special education teacher said of Payne. ”Rather than do that, OJ worked to figure out ways to take away barriers that may have blocked his success.”
After college, Payne said he hopes to continue to pursue volleyball. When he’s not at school, he also works at Little Angels Daycare.
“Even if I can’t play a league, I’d like to help out and coach kids and still have a business part, too. My own shoe or brand. Coaching younger kids is really fun, but businesswise, I think I can do that, too,” he said.
Payne said finding volleyball has made him feel like a kid again and it’s why he fell in love with it, he said.
“Everybody is smiling on both sides of the court and making friends with the other team,” he said. “Most sports, you talk trash. You talk trash here, too, but it’s not mean. It’s fun and you joke around. It’s like being a little kid again.”
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