Tournament founder Tom Galecke pulled up to Brighton Acres at 9 a.m. Monday. In his truck was the first load of gear for this weekend’s 37th Waupaca Boatride tournament in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
In a normal year, the setup and takedown would be the most onerous task of this event.
But this isn’t a normal year.
“The work that we’ve put into it this year is tremendous,” Galecke said. “It’s a stressful thing, and then only to be able to do it halfway is both a blessing and a curse at the same time.
“It gives us happiness to be able to hold the event and to work with our health department and everybody over here, but one of our main goals is that we wanted to show that something can go on and you can do it safely, and 100% we fully intend to do that and to show that we can put it on safely.”
The tournament — loaded with talent but in competitive short form — begins Thursday in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and continues through Sunday.
“Our health department said, ‘Here’s an event that can do it.’ They’re going to be using our guidelines for other events in the area going forward,” Galecke said. “So we take that as a great responsibility and we’re looking forward to it. We don’t consider it a challenge.”
The tournament will have a different look this year, with half the number of courts, no camping, no stadium court, a livestreamed finals, no indoor concessions, and the finals broadcast on the iconic Brighton Acres barn. We detailed the changes previously in our roundup of the largest amateur volleyball events of the year here.
Having to downsize is tough on many of the participants.
“That’s probably the most painful part of the whole thing,” Galecke said. “We get so many calls from people that are coming from so far away, and people that have played for so many consecutive years. Everyone’s been really understanding and helpful.”
The Boatride is the first large-scale amateur volleyball event of the year, especially since Seaside, Pottstown, Fuds, and Rosarito have fallen victim to the coronavirus pandemic.
The open sand doubles, an AVP Next Gold event, is loaded with AVP pros. The men’s draw features Bill Kolinske, Miles Evans, Steven Roschitz, Peter Connole, Tim and Brian Bomgren. The women’s draw is equally loaded, with a field that includes Katie Hogan, Molly Turner, Katie Spieler, Delaney Mewhirter, Brittany Tiegs, Lauren Deturk and Kerri Schuh-Klister.
This year Brighton Acres will have 153 grass nets and 12 sand courts, with 1,100 teams over the four-day event.
The Waupaca Boatride is eagerly anticipated each year and is regarded by many as a volley-reunion. AVP pro Tim Bomgren, who lives and trains in Golden Valley, Minnesota, has attended every Boatride since 2007 except in 2017, when it conflicted with the AVP San Francisco event.
Bomgren is one of the tournament’s many fans. Bomgren and partner Troy Field were VolleyballMag.com‘s Breakthrough Team of 2019, beginning their year with thirds in AVP Huntington Beach and Austin before making the finals in New York.
“This tournament means a ton to me,” he said. “It’s the one where it’s the only big tournament that’s close to home, and it always has some roots for me in the sense that this is the tournament that all my college buddies play, and it still is that. The volleyball community is so big, and so supportive of each other.
“It’s fun to get together and all be playing at the same time, in different levels of competition, and something that fits everyone.”
The Boatride brings together all ages and all levels on both grass and sand on the Brighton Acres 40-acre property, providing a unique feel. Previously, with camping on site, all the players and spectators stayed to watch the finals and the bands.
Bomgren believes that although the event won’t be the same, everyone will still enjoy themselves.
“The energy at the event is really good. I think one of the things is that people are just so excited to be there, to see their friends, teammates, and opponents, and the extracurricular activities at night livens up the crowd a little bit. The fact that we can even have the tournament in the current circumstances is really exciting.”
Kerri Schuh-Klister, married June 11 to Greg Klister, has played in the event since her junior year at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Like Bomgren, she missed only the 2017 event. Her wedding was nearly interrupted by the coronavirus when a friend tested positive for COVID only days before. Luckily, they proceeded cautiously with their plans and were reassured when the tests came back negative.
Schuh-Klister remembers her first Waupaca experience, never having played triples previously.
“It was my junior year of college, I was 21 or 22. It was still in Waupaca then and it was my first grass tournament,” she said. “We played against these old ladies and they just kept rolling and shooting and putting the ball where we weren’t. And I was so tired and looked like a fool because I didn’t know what everybody was doing. We lost, I think the year was 2010.”
Schuh-Klister, a 6-foot blocker, played in all seven AVP events in 2019, earning a fifth place finish in Austin.
The meaning of this tournament has changed for her recently, as she and Greg have opened Sandbox volleyball, a junior beach club in Kaukana, a 25-mile drive from Oshkosh.
“When I first started playing it was just the fact that I want to win in front of all these people and prove myself,” she said. “Now, I obviously still want to win and prove that I can do it from Wisconsin and do the whole sand thing. But I’ve coached so many kids and I’m such an idol to the kids that I want to show them how awesome it is to win.”
Schuh-Klister’s expectations are especially tempered in the grass triples event. She last played in 2015, finishing third with Jena Berg and Ashley Genslak.
“This is my first time playing grass in five years, so this time the grass is just going to be for fun. I’m not expecting to win the grass because I’m a little rusty on the grass side.”
Bomgren will partner with Field, his brother Brian, and Ben Shamrokh in triples, and with Brian in the sand doubles. The brothers competed together professionally from 2011-2017 before a knee injury sidelined Brian.
“Brian and I get along so well, and we have so much fun on and off the court, we’ve played for a lot of years together, and now we understand that we aren’t doing that any more, so opportunities like this are so much more special,” Tim said.
“Our families get along really well, and we both have young kids that play together really well, so there’s more than just the volleyball aspect.”
Bomgren notes that there is a significant difference in mindset in grass relative to beach volleyball.
“The biggest thing is just the pace of play. Doubles is a bit more controlled, a ball control sport, vision is more important. Triples is kind of a banger’s game. You’re serving tough, you’re basically swinging every time, it’s a different mentality. In grass, you try to do whatever it takes to get one dig or one block, and then I’m just going to swing hard at everything. That’s how the game works.”
Schuh-Klister notes that the Boatride is the event that establishes bragging rights for the next year.
“From a Midwest perspective this is the biggest event of its type of the year. I remember people talking about it as being like Christmas in the summer, they get so excited to play it, and just because everybody comes around. You see every volleyball player every now and then but to be able to see everybody in one spot at one time is pretty cool.”
Terrible management and decisions this year. Had a girl fly out to play Friday moved it to Sunday, her flight home is sunday. All while canceling Sunday which I was also going to play. Now I’m out 2 tournaments, money from hotel rooms no refund or an apology email yet. This has nothing to do with COVID as they didn’t even adhere to there own guildlines as you can see with the spectators on the live feed. Didnt see no spacing not even one mask. Never again will I play boatride and you shouldn’t either.