Michigan State men’s club volleyball coach Sante Perrelli blazes a legacy
He sees volleyball as more than a sport; it’s a way to bring people together and improve lives. Oh, and he’s really good at coaching MSU and winning titles too.
EAST LANSING, Mich. – For years, Sante Perrelli, head coach of the Michigan State men’s club volleyball program, has headed to Northern Illinois University for the pre-season Illinois Tournament.
Perrelli has formed a ritual for the trek, which includes a visit to the same family-owned Greek restaurant. During this meal, Perrelli and the team are able to bond. These moments are vital, because for Perrelli, volleyball is much more than just a physical activity or sport; it is a philosophy on life.
“I have always said that volleyball, like other sports, can be a vehicle for understanding,” Perrelli said. “Everybody kind of has a common interest and then things develop from there. It kind of is a unifier and an opportunity.”
Perrelli, 68, was asked by MSU students to help form a volleyball club in 1987. Perrelli had just graduated from law school at the University of Detroit Mercy, and moved to East Lansing to help. Ever since then, he has been head coach.
“I had dark, curly hair back in the day,” Perrelli said, with a laugh. “I didn’t know what I was getting into, but it was a great experience.”
Perrelli and the team have achieved a .750 win percentage, earning ten top-10 National Championship finishes, nine conference championships, seven league championships and a top 48 ranking every year since he became coach 35 years ago.
Perrelli was named the 2006 National Coach of the Year, and was selected as a coach for the 1995 U.S. National Boys’ team and the 1996 U. S. Olympic Festival South team.
Despite consistent success and numerous awards, Perrelli’s motivation remains the players.
“The students are amazing, they’re so awesome,” Perrelli said. “They come from so many different places and so many different backgrounds. I am so impressed with not just their dedication to the club and what it means and how they organize their time, but how they kind of confront their own barriers and challenges, and there is a lot of graciousness that I see going on, a lot of civility.”
Perrelli’s outlook on the sport is much informed from his position as former Michigan assistant attorney general. In this role, he represented state agencies that promote education, economic and employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
A broadened and informed perspective from his players is something Perrelli is thankful for.
“The students are so much more aware, culturally, socially and they kind of reflect to me a contemporary nature of society in many ways,” Perrelli said. “There is so much desire to be part of something bigger than themselves.”
This perspective allows Perrelli to teach his players valuable life lessons that they can use once they are done with college. These lessons come in the form of community outreach, such as working with the Greater Lansing Food Bank and participating in fundraising volleyball tournaments.
Perrelli also said that club sports require the students to do more than just participate in the sport itself. The players learn to communicate by working with administrators, other clubs and teammates.
Perrelli believes that community engagement and team collaboration can result in maturity for his players.
“I think young people have a tremendous opportunity to be leaders in ways that others have not been able to be great leaders,” Perrelli said. “It’s exciting to see that, not just at Michigan State, but to see it around the country. One thing that is so cool is to see that kind of engagement and outreach and kind of a celebration of life.”
Perrelli’s love for volleyball and people is not limited to Michigan State. Perrelli is involved with three non-profit organizations that promote volleyball regardless of gender, and creates opportunities for others to get involved.
Perrelli is the co-founder and president of the Lakeshore Region Volleyball Association, a Michigan based non-profit that focuses on junior boys and girls clubs. He is also a commissioner of the Midwest Collegiate Club Volleyball Inc., which registers club organizations from colleges and universities located in the Midwest and promotes intercollegiate play. The club volleyball team plays in this league. At the national level, Perrelli is the co-founder and president of the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation, a national organization that promotes health, education and leadership opportunities for male and female college club volleyball players.
Perrelli’s advocacy, philanthropy and experience are the driving force that allows the men’s club volleyball team to become a family.
Urvil Patel, senior at Michigan State and president of the club volleyball team, has built a close relationship with Perrelli.
“Him having that experience really motivates us because we know what he’s talking about is true,” Patel said. “He wants to make everyone, especially in his club, his family. We are a part of his family, and he’ll tell us that all the time.”
Patel said his experience at MSU would not be the same without Perrelli.
“I’m so glad that he’s in my life,” Patel said. “I’ve been taught by him to be a leader, to be organized and make sure that I am ready once I graduate for the world and new challenges. I’m glad I have someone by my side here as a figure to look up to like him.”