D akota Galeazzi is running. Not for fun, not to get somewhere, but for punishment. You see, he did something that lacked discipline. He skipped practice. So his soccer coach has him running.
And with every winded breath and cleat hitting the soft grass Galeazzi is learning his lesson.
It’s just not the lesson his coach intended.
The lesson was supposed to be “Don’t ever skip practice again.” But all Galeazzi could think was “This was worth it.”
If he could go back he would skip again. No matter how many sprints, no matter how many disapproving glances the coach sent his way, given the chance at a redo, Galeazzi would skip soccer practice over and over and over again.
And the thing is, he doesn’t lack discipline. Galeazzi works hard, and he loves sports. So, he must of skipped for a good reason, right?
He skipped to watch a volleyball game.
People often say twins have a special bond. An understanding that goes deeper than even the closest of siblings. It’s a cliche and a stereotype, but for Dakota and his twin sister Olyvea it rings true.
So when she started playing volleyball, it makes sense that Dakota did too. After all, who else would she practice hitting and passing with than her built-in best friend?
When middle school came along it was time for Olyvea to join the volleyball team, but her passing buddy couldn’t.
Schools in Canada and Wisconsin have boys volleyball teams, and other bigger towns and cities across the country do too, but not the UP. It’s part of a long-term problem with various sports that stems from lack of interest, lack of promotion and lack of resources.
No matter, Dakota thought. He would just play other sports. He spent his freshman year on a basketball court and a soccer field. But it wasn’t the same.
He didn’t feel the pull to those sports that he did with volleyball.
“Volleyball made me so happy,” he said. “Something about it got me.”
He loved the strategy involved. It wasn’t just athleticism that made players good, it was the chess-like analysis they used to read the other team and place the ball in just three hits.
The team camaraderie felt different, too. When Dakota watched volleyball, or played with his sister and their friends everyone felt important. In soccer and basketball, it is easy to get lost in the shuffle. And a star player can carry the team. But in volleyball it took everyone.
Dakota wanted to be part of that everyone.
At first, he thought the only way to do that was by watching. And that’s how Dakota ended up doing those sprints at soccer practice.
He took a risk simply to watch a sport he loved. And he probably knew he would get caught, too. After all, it was a school-sanctioned event in a small community. Everyone knows everyone, and that means they knew Dakota was supposed to be at soccer practice.
So when Dakota was fulfilling his punishment for missing practice, the lesson he learned was that his love of volleyball couldn’t be surpassed. Soccer and basketball just weren’t the same, so he had to find a way to play the sport he was drawn to.
That turned out to be much harder than the disciplinary cardio he was forced to do. Much, much harder.
But when things got tough, Dakota always drew on one memory to remind himself that he could do this. He could play volleyball.
When he was a sophomore Dakota decided not to go out for soccer or basketball. Instead, he became the manager for the girls volleyball team at Iron Mountain. When the season was about to begin he accompanied Olyvea to a scrimmage.
When Dakota picked up the volleyball and sent his first hit flying over the net the girls on the team screamed in unison. They were giddy watching him.
“They were all so excited and that’s when I knew that I could actually be good if I keep pushing myself and working hard,” he said. “I loved it from then on.”
Dakota went to every practice and participated in drills and scrimmages. When he wasn’t in the Iron Mountain gym, he was practicing in his neighborhood with Olyvea, or playing beach volleyball in the warmer months.
But no amount of practice could change the fact that when Dakota’s teammates hit the court for an actual sanctioned game, he was relegated to the bench.
From the bench, Dakota learned even more about volleyball. He wasn’t playing, but watching made him better.
“He learned to run the drills, take book and learned the rules,” Iron Mountain volleyball coach Jeanne Newberry said. “Volleyball is strategic. He learned how to analyze the weaknesses and strengths of our opponents.”
Over time Newberry began to see Dakota as an assistant coach rather than a manager. He helped with warmups and ran drills prior to games. But Dakota was quick to remind his forgetful coach that he indeed, wanted to play, not coach.
“He was so good at helping me that I would forget sometimes and he would have to ask me, ‘Can I play now?’ “ Newberry said with a laugh.
Then, he’d get in line to hit with the other players.
Every athlete has to do the dirty work if they want to be successful. Cardio, weights, practice, boring drills and so on, but all that work is rewarded come game time. That, is the fun part.
Dakota already loved volleyball without the fun part, but he wanted to play on a team for real. One where he could stay on the court after warmups.
So, when Olyvea started club volleyball, Dakota had an idea. He contacted the coach about starting a boys team. But the UP is set in its ways, and there hasn’t been boys club volleyball before, so it didn’t take off.
Two players signed up. Dakota was disheartened.
There have been a lot of moments like that on his journey.
“Some nights I came home crying because I didn’t have the opportunity to be part of the team,” he said. “All because I’m a boy in the UP who loves a sport that isn’t supported.”
So, he did the next best thing. And just like with the Iron Mountain team, Dakota became the perfect helper. Stats, drills and strategy in exchange for practicing with the team.
Dakota has always been surrounded by coaches and volleyball players who support him in his love for the game, but not everyone is that way.
He’s endured more than his share of hurtful comments. People question why he would play a girls sport when he could go out for football or basketball.
But they don’t get it. Dakota was made to play volleyball. No other sport brings him this joy.
“To survive in a sport where you are the only one, he is so strong-hearted because he didn’t let anyone tell him he couldn’t do it,” Newberry said. “His passion for the game is really his strength.”
Now, Dakota is a bit of a celebrity in the UP volleyball community. When he walks into gyms he’s greeted with whispers of, “That’s the boy who plays volleyball.” And that’s an identity he embraces.
“It makes me laugh,” he said about the moniker. “It sucks that I can’t compete, but it is an honor to help out the high school and club teams. I want to show others that I can still play, even though I am a boy in a small town.”
His commitment to the game earned Dakota respect throughout the volleyball community, and it had a hand in creating new friendships.
One of those changed his life.
Dakota often posts videos of him playing volleyball on his various social media pages, and one day he got a message from a girl from Stephenson.
The college she goes to, Olivet, has a boys volleyball team, and she encouraged Dakota to make a recruiting profile.
Dakota had always wanted to play a college sport, but with no team and no stats, he didn’t know if it would be possible. But he created the profile and sent some video of him playing to Olivet’s coach.
The coach responded with interest.
So, Dakota took a tour after his high school season, and it wasn’t long before he had found his team — finally, a team he could practice with, and play in games.
He couldn’t believe how kind the Olivet players were to him, and after his tour they invited him to an open gym. Dakota didn’t have any of his volleyball gear with him, but that didn’t matter. The players let him borrow clothes and shoes, and from then on, Dakota knew he belonged at Olivet.
If you look at Dakota’s Twitter, he has a pinned tweet at the top of his profile. It’s a picture of him in the Iron Mountain gym sitting next to Olyvea to sign his letter of intent.
He’s never played in a sanctioned game and never recorded a single stat, but after all this time, Dakota is going to be a college volleyball player.
“I really want to show that no matter where you come from you can do something if you really put your heart and mind to it,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to chase your dreams.”
He’s accomplished one dream, but for Dakota, that’s not enough.
It’s not enough for one boy in a small town to reach his goals; he wants everyone to be able to do the same.
And when Dakota wants something, he goes for it.
Who says boys can’t play volleyball?
“I hope someday we have a boys team at Iron Mountain,” Newberry said. “And I hope someday Dakota is the coach.”
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