Thomas Johnson Starts Middle School Volleyball Team

| February 1, 2024 | 0 Comments

It was a random encounter that helped lay the groundwork for a girls volleyball team getting started this school year at Thomas Johnson Elementary Middle School (TJEMS) in South Baltimore. TJEMS parent Kattie Rogers was passing through the school’s gym with her child in May 2023 and saw some girls casually playing volleyball. She spoke with the girls and told them she’d be willing to help them start a volleyball team if they were interested. They loved the idea and the planning began.

TJEMS Assistant Principal Katherine Scotti has been looking to start more extracurricular activities at the school and started a tennis club in recent years that met at Latrobe Park after school. Some of the girls asked if they could take a break from tennis and play volleyball in the gym instead. Scotti obliged and that’s when the encounter with Rogers took place.

Rogers teamed up with Rob Wahl, father of Emma Wahl who was one of the students playing volleyball after school, to launch the TJEMS Volleyball team in Fall 2023. Wahl and Rogers began planning tryouts, fundraising for the team, and calling around to Baltimore City middle schools to find opponents.

A total of 18 girls joined the volleyball team at TJEMS, which resulted in the school having an A Team and B Team. TJEMS was able to play games against the two other volleyball teams in the city, Rosemont Elementary/Middle School in West Baltimore and Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School in Greenmount West.

The team got their start at a tournament at Catholic High School. The girls wore their dark green TJEMS school uniform shirts with numbers taped on the back. Scotti noted the lack of uniforms didn’t give the team the greatest first impression, but soon the other schools realized the TJEMS girls “could play.” They finished second out of five teams.

The team would soon get uniforms and finished the season in second place out of the three schools in Baltimore City.

Looking to keep the momentum going and give the girls more opportunities to play, Rob Wahl started a club team called the SoBo Storm. A total of 10 girls play for the Storm during various tournaments.  The Storm recently finished in third place at a U14 Play Day sponsored by The Baltimore Elite Volleyball Club. The team also traveled to Pennsylvania for two other tournaments.

Emma Wahl, an 8th grader who also plays tennis and softball, loved her volleyball experience at TJEMS and hopes to play next year in high school. Baltimore City College and Mercy are two schools Wahl is considering.

Wahl loves the new friends she made on the volleyball team and how the team “brought everyone together.” She noted the team has an active text chain. Wahl has also enjoyed meeting volleyball players from other schools.

Jackson Jacobs, an 8th grader who also plays for the TJEMS basketball team, hopes to play volleyball next year at Dunbar High School. She said the volleyball team helped her improve her grades and school attendance. Jacobs had a lot of fun on the team and said that spiking a volleyball is a great way to “release a lot of stress.”

Ava Simons is an 8th grader and avid soccer player who plays for Coppermine’s Elite 64 team that competes in a league of the 64 best club soccer teams in the country in each age group. She joined the volleyball team and loved the “relaxing and fun environment” of playing a new sport with her friends from school. Simons is one of the shorter players on the team and found a role as the libero, a player who specializes in passing and defense.

Simons is currently looking at ¬†Mercy, Mount De Sales, and Maryvale next year to play soccer, but didn’t rule out continuing to play club volleyball.

TJEMS looks forward to bringing back the team next year and hopes to see more schools in Baltimore City put together teams. Wahl said they also haven’t ruled out starting a boys team in the future, but looks to improve upon the girls team first.

Along with basketball and volleyball, the next sport likely returning to TJEMS is soccer. Once the renovations are completed at Riverside Park this spring, the team will have a dedicated place to play.

Scotti noted the school couldn’t do all of these extracurricular activities without the parents. “When the kids or staff have an idea, we always start out by calling a few parents,” she said.

Photos courtesy of the TJEMS Volleyball Team

Jackson Jacobs and Ava Simons

Emma Wahl

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Founder and Publisher of, longtime resident of South Baltimore, and a graduate of Towson University. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, father of three, amateur pizza chef, skateboarder, and "bar food" foodie. Email me at and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.