Volleyball Adapts Several Times Throughout Season
At the beginning of the year, if you were to look for the volleyball team, you would have had trouble finding them. You might first check the gym; the gym would probably be locked, dark, and empty inside. At this point, you might notice some people running across the soccer field, but that is just the boys flag football team. You know the team must be practicing somewhere, but they don’t seem to be in any of the normal places. Yet if you look a little closer — maybe tilt your head and squint a little — you could find the girls volleyball team, playing in the far, small corner of the field.
Initially, during the summer, AJA did not plan to offer any fall sports. Yet, as understanding regarding COVID-19 continued to develop, AJA adjusted its plans accordingly; around mid-August, AJA decided that they could indeed arrange for fall sports. By the beginning of the school year, AJA girls could count on having a volleyball season — in some form or another. Initially practices would be held outside on the field; eventually, the team moved outside.
As the school year began it was still unclear how to best approach COVID-19 in athletics, so the school’s medical committee continued its process in collecting data. To err on the side of safety, the school held all sports outdoors (this provides open air circulation that helps prevent the spread of the virus).
Coach Zimmerman went back to the drawing board and revisited the idea of conducting volleyball indoors. Based on various factors, Coach Zimmerman ultimately decided that volleyball would move inside the gym. Firstly, the weather: Ongoing rain and increasingly cold temperatures continuously impeded practices. Secondly, safety: Coach Zimmerman explained that playing indoors is “considered under CDC guidelines as safe.” In addition, parents fill out the Parent Locker on a daily basis, keeping the school up-to-date on each student’s health status. Furthermore, since volleyball did not include any people outside the “AJA bubble” (the team did not play matches against other schools due to the lack of other schools willing to match AJA’s COVID-19 protocols), playing inside the gym did not drastically differ from learning inside the classroom. Lastly, Coach Zimmerman stated, “We can’t just run for the rest of our lives.” At some point, he believes, we must face the risks and return indoors.
While flag football, the other fall sport, is typically played on a field, volleyball is another case entirely. Much of the sport is dependent on the ability to slide on a gym floor using knee pads — something grass just cannot accommodate. Furthermore, during a particularly rainy season, volleyball practices were often cancelled because “there are times that you can get away with playing flag football in the rain, but you can’t do that with volleyball,” Athletic Director Rodney Zimmerman explained.
In addition, the vast majority of the soccer field was doled out to the boys for flag football. Over the past year, the volleyball team went from a nice, large gym to a small, grass corner. Of course, safety concerns because of COVID-19 dictated some of these changes, but Coach Zimmerman felt that the fall sports nevertheless did not receive equal treatment. “We didn’t feel that it was set up respectfully,” he said. “Why does football get a whole field and volleyball gets a corner?”
The girls had understood the precautions of playing outside. “There’s still a pandemic going on, volleyball or not,” remarked co-captain Kira Mermelstein. Yet when they moved inside the gym, the team was excited and grateful. “Playing outside was very unconventional and harder than I expected, so I was eager to get back inside,” said junior Ella Goldstein. In a survey, co-captain Emily Gavrielov similarly said she felt extremely happy to be back on the court.
Unfortunately, their time inside the high school gym was short lived. Back in the beginning of the school year, when all sports took place on the field, Coach Zimmerman and the administration began looking for ways to bring in revenue for future athletics. Since at that time the gym wasn’t in use, the school planned to rent it out to others. By the time the girls planned to move back inside the gym, the contracts were already in place. After two practices inside the high school gym, schedules conflicted and the girls had to move to the middle school gym.
The volleyball team found this second transition upsetting. Co-captain Miriam Frances expressed frustration in needing to use a gym not built according to high school regulation sizes. Sivan Livnat said that the whole situation “kind of begs the question, ‘What’s the point of a high school gym if the high schoolers aren’t able to use it?’” Ella felt similarly, saying, “It’s our gym and our school, so it was a little annoying because we felt like this is our home court, but we’re not even allowed to use it.”
Ella believes that this fits in a pattern of less-than-equal treatment towards volleyball. “There have been a few instances during my time playing volleyball at AJA where I felt like volleyball and a lot of other sports, like baseball or soccer, don’t get as much recognition or equal treatment as other sports, like basketball or boys flag football,” explained Ella. For example, she said, the school has never organized Saturday night games for volleyball, though these are staples of the basketball season.
Moving locations a total of three times, the volleyball team went through multiple major changes this season. From no season, to an outdoor season, to an indoor season, the season continuously adapted to changing situations. And throughout the season, the team felt they received the short end of the stick. While Coach Zimmerman says, “Equality is big. Girls and boys should have the same opportunities as each other,” the girls on the volleyball team seem to feel this is not their reality.