Save sand volleyball.
That's what close to 200 volleyball enthusiasts in the Brainerd lakes area are trying to do as they find themselves homeless with a month to go before the sand volleyball season heats up.
Black Bear Lodge and Saloon has housed the sand volleyball league for nearly seven years. But this summer Black Bear had to close the courts due to insurance problems.
Rob VanVelkenberg, owner of Black Bear, said their insurance company does a site inspection each year but never noticed the sand volleyball courts until recently.
"Our insurance company had to cancel us because they couldn't insure us with the volleyball courts," VanVelkenberg said. "There are only two insurance companies in the state that do liquor licenses and volleyball. One company doesn't take on a large exposure like us and the other is $25,000 more expensive than the current insurance. We couldn't pass that cost on or recoup it."
Last Turn Saloon's Dan Stout (right) passed the ball as Brittany Stegora watched Thursday at the Brainerd YMCA.
Not all is lost for the sand volleyball players. Nate Eckman, a regular player at the YMCA adult volleyball leagues as well as the sand volleyball league, has taken on the effort of finding a home for the summer. Eckman and Jared Diem helped organize the efforts of the group in finding a new home.
Eckman and Diem met with Jack's House bowling alley ownership about the possibility of constructing two sand courts for league use this summer and came to a deal. Jack's House will construct the courts with the help of Eckman, who provided blue prints and sketches of the courts, as well as help run the leagues and promote them.
Eckman has also started a website called brainerdvolleyball.com to help organize the league better by listing schedules, standings and tournament information.
"We had to take things into our own hands," Eckman said. "We had to seek out a place to continue our league and Jack's House has stepped up to the plate for us. There was a very large sense of urgency after the Black Bear closed their courts. It's just so big that Jack's was able to step up and help us out.
"Now, I think a lot of people's worries are eased and we're just anxious to start."
Eckman, who's played sand volleyball in Brainerd for the past 12 years, pointed out that the league gives a lot of people a different choice of recreation in the summer.
"It's a way for people to get out and, through playing with and against people, become friends," Eckman said. "It also gives a large section of people an alternative to softball and other summer sports."
Mary Miller of Crosslake, who's a former volleyball player at the University of California-Riverside, is one of the many area volleyball players that compete in the league. Miller has played sand volleyball for the last five years and has developed friendships and bonds with many of the players.
"We live for this," Miller said of playing sand volleyball in the summer. "It's so much fun to play against someone who's good and there's some very good competition in this league. We're also like a family. A lot of us get together and have movie nights. We're a very tight-knit group and we're very passionate about the sport."
TROY GUNDERSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5865.
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