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Volleyball coaches and friends Lisa Bradley, left, and Jenny Tompkins stand in the newly completed sand volleyball court at Columbia Central High School. Bradley is the new coach at Napoleon High School and Tompkins coaches at CCHS. Courtesy photo.

By Jeff Steers
JTV Sports

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

The Napoleon High School volleyball program has tweaked that old saying in light of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions not allowing them to practice indoors.

When life gives you lemons, don’t just make lemonade – make a sand volleyball court is their new mantra.

The idea of creating two sand volleyball courts in the southeast corner of Jackson County began in June.

A conversation before the start of summer volleyball workouts between two rival coaches led to an idea to attack COVID-19.

Columbia Central High School volleyball Coach Jenny Tompkins and Napoleon High School Coach Lisa Bradley discussed the possibility of building outdoor volleyball courts at each of the schools.

Napoleon built theirs within a matter of weeks and CCHS just completed their outdoor sand court last week.

Last week the Michigan High School Athletic Association ruled volleyball, swimming and boys’ soccer could continue to practice outside, but not compete or practice inside due to pandemic restrictions.

In Michigan regions 1-5 and 7, competition in boys’ soccer, girls swimming and diving and volleyball may begin upon the issuance of future executive order(s) permitting soccer competition and opening of indoor school facilities for volleyball and swimming competition.

Both Napoleon and Columbia are in region 7. Right now, region 7 is in COVID-19 level No. 4 of six. The region would need to move to level five for indoor activities.

Under current executive orders, these three sports in regions 1-5 and 7 may continue to practice outdoors under published protocols but may not compete within these six regions. Schools could travel into regions 6 and 8 – in northern Michigan – and compete based on the guidance above.

Both CCHS and Napoleon have been creative in practice facilities.

“We have been practicing on the tennis courts,” CCHS Coach Tompkins said with a chuckle. “Everyone can get a good kill at the net … good for confidence building.”

The Golden Eagles have practiced on the Clark Lake Beach and Boat Club sand volleyball courts.

Napoleon practiced wherever they could, using fences and parking lots as courts.

“We found that the fence on the home side of the high school football field is the right height for blocking exercises,” Bradley said. “The girls have been great about this.

“One day it was raining outside, but the girls were just happy to be together and bond (after quarantining all summer).”

Bradley pitched the idea to NHS Athletic Director Tom Johns who took a whole three minutes to say yes. Teacher Carl Bunker did the excavating, the maintenance crew and Napoleon Athletic Boosters pitched in, and Willbee Transit-Mix provided both schools with a “fantastic price” for sand. The project was completed on July 10.

CCHS relied on R & L Trucking for providing free excavating services, donations from the boosters, builder Mike McKay, and Hometown Pizza, and manpower from volunteers – including players.

Cost of the projects would normally cost more than $2,000 to complete, according to the coaches.

Both coaches are convinced volleyball teams will participate – indoors – at some point this season.

“I have a feeling we are going to hear something this week,” Tompkins said. “It is actually been very emotional for these girls … they just want to play volleyball.”

Bradley offers similar views on the Napoleon side.

“I have told our girls to keep the faith,” Bradley said. “Our girls have come out here and given 100 percent every day despite the 90-degree heat.

“They love the game more than this little set back.”

Both teams noted the new courts will be used for gym classes, volleyball camps, and local participants.

Members of the Columbia Central High School volleyball program worked to spread sand for the new sand volleyball court last week.

Napoleon High School volleyball players found the fence on the home side of the football field was the perfect height for blocking drills – in light of not being able to practice indoors.

Members of the Napoleon High School girls’ volleyball program sit and stand proudly on the school’s new sand volleyball court.

Local company Willbee Transit-Mix provided the sand for the new volleyball courts at Columbia Central and Napoleon high schools at a fantastic price – according to coaches at the two schools.
Courtesy photos.

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