USA Volleyball’s response to COVID-19 and guidelines toward Return to Play.

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USA Volleyball’s response to COVID-19 and guidelines toward Return to Play.

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I returned this week to a special place of ancestors, a village I first was lucky to visit a decade ago, the Makah Nation. They have hunted, harvested and played games for thousands of years up in what we would say today is the farthest North and West you can go in our continental United States – Cape Flattery area of the state of Washington.

You see, growing the game together means not just to train those kids living in wealthy areas and those dense in population, but to serve those who love sport but live in economically disadvantaged and remote areas of our world. This is in part the mission of the Starlings USA  program (  who USA Volleyball supports and partners with – led by former national team member Byron Shewman –and your support of their mission is appreciated as part of your membership in USAV.  It is also my annual commitment, to work in an area where amazing kids and coaches seek to learn to become better in our sport, with special attention to our Native Americans.  Thus I have been blessed to work in Fairbanks and points north in Alaska; Saskatchewan with the Inuits; in Tuba City Arizona; Farmington and Gallup New Mexico with the Navajo; with leaders like Nanabah Allison-Brewer at her Native American Volleyball Academy ( and at the all Native American Haskell University in Lawrence, KS.  It is the right thing to do, for it may not be fiscally profitable, but it is morally and spiritually what William G. Morgan would have wanted to see…

So a day after my mom passed, I caught a late night flight to Seattle to once again join with the Neah Bay High School head coach, Rebekah Monette. First you need to drive about 4-5 hours north from the airport, to a place my phone had no signal and the fog rolls in and out almost as much as the Pacific waves the Makah fish on, while eagles and crows weave unknown patterns in the sky above.  On these narrow winding roads near the sea, my favorite sign as a driver was “Delay of five vehicles is illegal - Use Pullouts.”

Some 500 years ago a huge hill side slid onto their longhouse homes, burying everything in an instant not unlike the Pompeii volcano did in Italy. About 44 years ago heavy seas began to unveil this centuries old disaster, and after 11 years of archaeological work, a museum also was built to house the tens of thousands of articles uncovered, showing life long ago. This included games with paddles and other implements, including the bone game that is still contested today.  In a special tour, I was able to see the games and material that they have in special storage, some from a site around 3,000 years old. If that does not put things into perspective, I don’t know what will…

The Makah are whale and seal hunters, using canoes built from cedar trees which are hollowed out to a point of carving by burning into the log. They are also fishermen and craftsmen with nets and hooks, including a halibut hook crafted from wood with a bone barb that only catches halibut, not dogfish and other less edible bottom fish. My oldest friends from elementary school, Scott Graves and John Borel, are salmon fishing in that area this week too, but I have more volleyball to grow and could not join them…this year.

Rebekah is one amazing coach and parent. Her sons Eli, a skilled fisherman, and Joshua, who is studying the linguistics and culture of his tribe at a deep level – becoming witness for his nation to the 40th anniversary of the “Boldt Decision” and working with whale bone to a point that his nickname might be “HeSoStinky…”  So what does Coach Monette do now that her sons are adults and thriving? Adopts two young Makah girls, aged 20m and 3 years, who need care and a family.

This is an area of the northwest that John Wayne used to visit by boat so much, they named a marina after him. Where I again see the same “Tsunami Evacuation Route” signs I see when I work in the South Pacific. Where National Geographic Survivor show is led on scouting trips by Rebekah, who works for the museum and knows the ancestral places they must protect, to have risky adventures on the seaside cliffs.  Where hunting and fishing shows are filmed, as well as an episode of “my five wives” – some reality show where the guy has 24 kids, whose father lives in the Port Angeles area, about 50 miles from Neah Bay. It is a place where they feed the elders first, where their reputation for being generous with food led to crossing paths with National Geographic’s Mick Dodge and his film crew at dinner one evening. One of the larger than life characters, Billy Frank, who was from the Nisqually nation, cussed so eloquently that some thought their name must be “gol-darnit” (in G rated terms) as in “GD it is good to see you…”  He was also described by former congressman Norm Dicks as “one of the most effective leaders that he ever met.” It is also a place where volleyball is played  where some seasons their coach has a front row line up that does not exceed  5’2”… so what did we work on a lot?

>Attitude ---  setting high expectations from the very first moments, asking for a culture of play (next day many kids came in 30 min early, so they could just play…), and reminding them that hustle beats talent when talent does not hustle, and that we may win or we may lose, but NOBODY is going to outhustle us. They walked in on the first whistle then flew faster than feet should be able to carry a player, after that…

I have to share what Eric Hodgson, my USAV Grassroots Chair, shared this month about a camp he did in North Dakota. “Tiniest girl on my court this week, literally 4-10 or 11 maybe. She was awesome, warrior kid. First day, beside her name on the board i put the Shakespeare quote, "Tho she be but small, she be fierce." Told her to have it tatted by last day of camp. She was quiet, not very outgoing but really came out of her shell this week. We kept talking about colored sleeve or jailhouse black and what kind of lettering. Finally told her Wed. night if she didn't come in with the tat the other girls were going to have to do pushups and crunches. She shows up with this on Thursday morning. How do you not love an athlete?   Yeah, Eric gets it…

We taught shots galore, and how not to hit where you are looking, and the national team back row attack calls of A/Pipe-Bic/D.  

They watched the volleyball documentary “Court and Spark” about not so tall Olympian Courtney Thompson who is from their same state.

They need a really mean serve, so the radar gun came out, and they worked on being 5 meters behind the endline and bombing away floaters. Serving torque serves if little, so all were blasting away.

They needed lots of reps to catch up, as many do not discover volleyball until 9th grade, so the Procter and Gamble multisport netband was used about half the camp, as they played 1v1, 1v1 plus 1, 3 person weave pepper, 2 vs 0 and speedball, all over the net of course…

They need lots of serve/serve receive reps (not passing skills), so Rebekah was pleased to see the impact of the 8 balls/four groups of three serve/reception contest, as found on page 52 of the MiniVolley book.

The high school group in just 30 hours of summer vacation, trained 10 hours in the gym, the younger kids, those nine and over, did six hours. They played “loser becomes the net” singles, doubles and even triples, Chaos ball (two balls served at the same time), circulation variations, and triple ball (MaxiScoring in the MiniVolley book).

At the end, having learned of my mom’s passing, I learned of drums silenced for a year and the comfort of a Pendelton Neah Bay high school colored black and red raven blanket. At the end of camp, they did a small ceremony, wrapped me in the blanket head to toe and though the tears flowed, so did a powerful peace. It now protects me at home as I sleep, thanks to their generosity and kindness. My mom would have approved...