The business that is club volleyball most certainly is being hit hard during this worldwide pandemic.
With no tournaments and, in most cases, entry fees being returned, facilities around the country are sitting vacant and bills are piling up related to those vacant facilities. Clubs of all sizes are feeling the direct brunt.
But one club is on a mission to help.
The 114-team The Academy Volleyball Club based in Indianapolis, Indiana, has launched its Stronger Together grant program aimed at distributing funds to clubs around the country in need.
The program is centered around the sale of Stronger Together T-shirts through Academy’s website.
The grant program was created to provide financial assistance to volleyball clubs negatively impacted by the COVID-19 closures. Funds for the grant come from T-shirt sales. All girls, boys and beach junior volleyball clubs are eligible to apply through an easy-to-access and fill-out form on that same website.
“We were talking as a staff and we have more than 100 teams and 1,000-some families and more than 200 coaches,” club director Emily Hawthorne told VolleyballMag.com. “We have people wanting to do something for people in need during this time of uncertainty and helplessness.
“In the grand scheme of things, a lot of us can’t do anything other than stay home and flatten the curve. There are a lot of people doing a ton of good things right now like helping your local small businesses by ordering takeout food. We have families who want to give back and we have something physical that will help people understand they are not in this on their own. These funds will be used to give back to clubs. It’s definitely a multipurpose initiative that started from some club families simply saying, ‘What can we do to help?’ ”
Hawthorne, who started Academy in 2014 with her husband, Steve, said club volleyball is so much more than just running a business.
“Your club is much more than a club,” said Hawthorne, who previously was involved in the Indiana Volleyball Academy. “A lot of it is what is keeping these kids going during the day right now with online content and connecting with teammates. We want to make sure these clubs stay strong and kids are in these clubs for years to come.
“This is an opportunity to give a grant to different clubs across the country. The hope is clubs in different states will jump on this and help spread the word with these T-shirt sales. Seeing kids and coaches and families in the same T-shirts will help spread the word that we will get through this and we will be stronger together.
Hawthorne said the goal is to sell 10,000 shirts with the end game of sending out at least 14 $5,000 grants to clubs in need across the country. The T-shirts are being printed by local vendor Distinct Images. “Jim Pike at Distinct Images has always jumped at the opportunity to help us and the volleyball community any way he can,” she said.
Hawthorne added that once teams fill out the grant application there is no additional documentation needed.
“We want to make it as easy as possible to apply for funding,” she said. “We know people have a lot on their minds and plates right now.”
If demand is strong, Hawthorne, noted, the number of grants could increase.
“Our goal is 10,000 shirts and that will give us a good amount of money to be able to award these grants,” she said. “We will increase the amount of money and the amount of clubs if we can get more funding. Our ask is that club directors and larger organizations spread the word on the shirt sales. That allows us to have funding for these grants.”
The Academy Volleyball Club, one of the largest clubs in the Midwest with 100 girls teams and 14 boys teams, has three facilities, 225 coaches and 12 full-time staff members. Hawthorne said it leases the main Indianapolis location and rents courts at satellite locations in Westfield (northern suburb of Indianapolis) and Lafayette. “They all have been closed since March 12,” she said. “We’re dark. Nobody is in them and nobody can do anything.”
Hawthorne, the mother of two young children, said the toll the pandemic is taking on the club scene is real.
“I have been on a couple webinars and conference calls with club directors and all clubs are struggling. They have staff members and coaches who are part of their families. We all want to keep them. A lot of families are dealing with job issues and job loss. There is a lot of uncertainty and you don’t know what the future holds. We are seeing everything from cancelled events to refunded club dues to cancelling spring leagues and clinics. Will any of us be able to get back during the club season or is the club season over? Will nationals still be held? What does our summer camp business look like? Club directors are dealing with these stresses.
“This is personal. This is our livelihood and employment, but at the same time these players, their families, the coaches and the staff members mean so much to all of us. We have this maternal/paternal instinct that we need to take care of them, too. This grant program hopefully will help. We all can be there and be emotionally supportive of each other and hopefully this funding will help as well.”
Shirts cost $15 each and are available in youth and adult sizes ranging from youth small to adult 3XL and come in multiple colors.