(Updated Thursday, April 30)
Should we stay or should we go?
That is the overriding question facing Illinois volleyball clubs with the news that, as of today, USA Volleyball still plans to conduct its boys and girls national championships notwithstanding the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed more than 54,000 American lives.
Adversity Volleyball Club in Vernon Hills has qualified seven teams for the USA Volleyball Boys Junior National Championship, June 27-July 4, in Reno, Nevada, and three teams for the USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championship, June 25-July 4, in Dallas, Texas.
“At this time, we have not made any final decisions regarding nationals,” said Melissa Masterson, girls program director at Adversity. “We know that many athletes are anticipating a return to the court, and we are hopeful we can get them back sooner than later.
“But this a tough decision, and for so many reasons,” she said. “There are various factors that go into this choice, but our main priority is the health and safety of our athletes. We plan to gather all the facts and seek input from our families before making any final decision.”
With volleyball clubs throughout the state shut down until at least the end of May following Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s most recent executive order (although a downstate judge issued a restraining order Monday that put the decision temporarily on hold), there is also the question of whether athletes will be physically prepared for a four-day national event.
“In order to attend nationals, we need to ensure that the athletes will be in a safe and healthy environment, and that they will physically be prepared to play,” Masterson said.
Meanwhile, the 47th AAU Junior National Volleyball Championships is still scheduled to June 16-28, in Orlando, Florida. However, the AAU has announced that no spectators will be allowed and temperature checks will be conducted to help protect all participants and officials.
The AAU also plans to take other precautions, such as spacing the courts further apart to increase walkways, a limitation on the number of vendors, a ban on handshakes, and the sanitation of balls between matches and courts between sessions.
But some club directors have expressed concerns that if the events are cancelled, will they be able to get refunds on flights and hotels. They are concerned with whether masks and temperature checks will, as one director put it, “take the fun right out of playing,” and whether only having a week or two of practice is sufficient.
Illini Elite in downstate Bloomington sent 14 teams to Orlando last year, where its 16 White team won the 16 Classic division. But club director Andy Erins said there are still too many unknowns to make a yay or nay decision on participating this summer.
“Honestly, we don’t know,” Erins said. “We don’t even know if we will be able to practice in June. We also don’t know what our flight refund policy is going to be, so that might dictate some of our decision-making.
“There are still too many unknowns for us to make any definitive answers about it,” he said.
Erins also said that while both USA Volleyball and AAU have restated their intentions to conduct national championships, there remains a lot of uncertainty about whether or not they will actually happen.
“There seem to be plenty of people out there who think AAUs and USAV nationals are not going to happen despite the announcements,” he said. “ It seems everything changes weekly or every couple of weeks, so I’m not going to decide anything until there is more clarity.”
Club 1 director Brie Isaacson, whose club sent 11 teams to AAUs in 2019, said the safety and health of her players is the club’s primary concern.
“Our goal, as a club, is to continue when safe to do so,” she said. “We realize the landscape of the club season looks entirely different. There are so many things to consider.
“The safety and well-being of our athletes will be our top priority,” Isaacson said.
Meanwhile, Club Fusion director Mike Bui said Thursday, “We are not going to any nationals.”
They will probably not be home alone.
(Updated Thursday, April 30)