Posted On: 09/23/20 10:11 PM

In a typical year, the Milwaukee Sting Volleyballs Club will draw more than 2,000 athletes to their training camps at their facility in Menomonie Falls, Wisconsin – the Milwaukee Sting Center.  But 2020 has been anything but typical.  While outdoor youth sports, like softball or baseball, have made strong signs of a bounce back this summer, indoor sports have been limited, restricted, and slower to make their return to actual team competition.  Sting’s outdoor program, like others across the state, have exploded in popularity.  After their ability to train at Bradford Beach was banned by local authorities, they paired up with a local restaurant/bar with 12 very well-kept sand courts to continue offering great opportunities.   

But despite having had over 20,000 COVID-19 cases in Milwaukee County, Sting has managed to present its top-notch training for area volleyball players.  The first adjustment was operating at 50% in order to provide a safe environment for campers.  Approximately 1,200-1,400 campers were able to still get training with Sting this summer.  The Sting Center also hosted a Prep Dig Summer League, and this summer they have managed to host 32 varsity teams, 24 girl’s JV teams, and 16 boy’s teams.  With the WIAA pushing the high school start date to Sept 7th and several high schools pushing their fall seasons to the spring, Sting also offered a two-week summer league extension   

It was tough not being able to offer as many training opportunities to kids this summer, but we knew it was the right move considering the situation we are dealing with,” Operations Director Dave Bayer said. We feel so fortunate that we were/are able to offer opportunities for young players to train and play in the safest environment possible given the current climate. The success of our camp season was a team effort led by our camp director, Taylor Morey, who poured herself into creating an atmosphere of health, safety, and learning.”   

Now, let us take a look at the actions put in place to run a safe training environment because these are easily replicable.  And schools, facilities, and gyms could give athletes of all ages the physical and mental exercise they need during a stressful time. 

Slowly But Safely Re-opening 

Sting typically hosts more than 2,000 campers over the summer. The plan would have to look a little different in 2020.  Bayer and the directors were in touch with other clubs and facilities from around the country regarding how to proceed in this unprecedented time.  The JVA was also a great resource as they worked hard to do their due diligence and keep up with recommendations from the CDC and local health officials. The Sting Center opened the Tuesday after Memorial Day, and the directors presented a 4-Phase plan that began with small group training (SGT).  

SGTs were restricted to 4 players per group with one coach. They split the gym into four quadrants so there was never more than 20 people in the gym at a time.  At the end of June, they moved into Phase 2, which allowed them to expand the number of players to 6 per group and still working within the same setup. On July 6 they shifted into Phase 3 to get ready for summer leagues and summer camps. The group numbers were boosted to 12 per court and cleaning procedures were also increased.  

Entry to the Venue 

There is one entry point and each person’s temperature is taken before being allowed to enter the gym.  Once inside the gym, teams or players go to their pre-designated areas where they keep their bags and water bottles.  This is where they can put their gear on, and it is also where they will go for water breaks.  When finished in the gym, they leave using a specified exit that is different from where they entered, to avoid congestion or accidental congregating inside the facility. 

 

Spectators and Mask Mandate 

All people inside the Sting Center are required to wear masks, and with the current statewide mandate, that includes if you are playing.  The mandate definitely raised a lot of questions, but Bayer said they haven’t experienced much pushback on the mask requirement. 

“There were several questions about players with asthma or other breathing problems, but there haven’t been any health issues that have arisen since the mask mandate went into effect.” Bayer said. “Masks are required upon entry into the building and are only to be removed to drink water or eat a snack. Young people are resilient and adjustable, and they have proven this again by competing hard with their masks on!” 

While no spectators are allowed in the facility, during the summer league, Sting allowed one ‘videographer’ per team in order to record and/or livestream the games so parents, friends, and family could still enjoy watching their favorite players compete.   

*Currently, Prep Dig is running fall tournaments and leagues at the Community First Champion Center in Appleton that is now allowing a few more spectators since they have some more space in their brand-new facility to do so.  BallerTV is also present so you can watch your favorite teams from home! 

You will notice the WIAA has adopted some of the recommendations that Sting and other facilities have been putting into action, such as no handshakes with opponents before or after the match, no changing sides between sets, and limiting those involved in the pre-match coaches meeting.   

Squeaky Clean 

Sting has often referenced local and state health departments through their websites as well as speaking with their county health department on several occasions for guidance or clarification on protocols, procedures, and best practices.  They have 4 team members that make up a small administrative staff who worked to create and maintain cleaning procedures that are in accordance with both local and national guidelines.  They continue to adjust their procedures whenever presented with new information or guidance from their county, state, and national governing bodies.  “In camps, our attentive staff did a great job upholding these protocols and procedures in order to keep our high standard in place” said Bayer.   

We got to see their procedures in action during our Showcase in early August.  Staff disinfected the courts and sanitized the balls between sessions.  They even went as far as disinfecting where players stood to get their headshots taken.  This included electrostatic spraying of all surfaces and cleaning solutions from a local Wisconsin business called North Woods out of Sheboygan, WI. Bayer said, “They supply us with a variety of products for different purposes, and we have appreciated their partnership and support throughout the COVID era.”  

Mask On, Play On 

There have been questions as to whether we should be pushing to get kids back to playing sports. The WIAA, individual conferences, and school districts have had to have these tough conversations.  Clubs around the country will also be having these conversations when discussing whether they can or should try to have a season.  I think we must remember that everyone that plays or participates will have to state they understand the risks, and if they weren’t comfortable with those risks, they certainly don’t have to participate.  We all need to be able to respect those opinions, feelings, and decisions since we all have different levels of comfort due to current circumstances and past experiences. 

But if you are wondering if it CAN be done, I’m here to tell you it CAN.  We have seen the Milwaukee Sting Center and the Community First Champion Center operating and hosting camps and events safely and responsibly.  They have proven that volleyball can be played in a safe environment. Organizers may be nervous, but remember that you can talk to other facilities and organizers for guidance and then start small and go from there. 

When I posed the question of importance for schools and athletic facilities to embrace these practices to get kids back to playing, Bayer responded, “I think it is essential! We have seen that working through a high standard of cleaning and individual responsibility to adhere to the protocols that we’ve put in place is not only possible, but players and teams are thriving in this environment.  Our doors are open, and we are training full speed when we are on the court.  This is made possible because of the care our staff and everyone who enters our facility takes to stay within the gym protocols, and we are grateful for a community who respects and adheres to our guidelines! It is appreciated!”