Youngsters ready for Chicago challenge
The Bermuda junior men's volleyball team finally get to put two years of training into practice this weekend when they travel to Chicago for the Asics Boys Summer Challenge.
Mark Hamilton's young charges were scheduled to compete at the East Caribbean Volleyball Association Invitation tournament in Sint Eustatius next month, but it has been postponed until next year because of hurricane damage.
“We were supposed to go to the East Caribbean Volleyball Association Invitation, where we'd play countries like St Martin, St Thomas, St Lucia,” Hamilton, the coach, explained. “Unfortunately, for our age group, it was cancelled mostly because of the hurricane that they had and so most of the countries down there did not get to train and, that being the case, they didn't have enough teams to participate.
“So we ended up having to find this tournament. We'd been training for two years for that tournament, so for us this was going to be a really big deal. These guys have been training twice a week for two years now.”
The youngsters were training against the senior men's national team at Warwick Academy on Sunday in preparation for this weekend's event.
“[At the] 2013 [ECVAs], we almost took gold,” Hamilton said. “We took silver and Daniel [Fiddick] was our captain. Now he's returned as a men's national player giving back to the youth programme, which is awesome. I really honestly believe that this team was as good as, if not stronger than, that team back then. I was sure that we were going to medal.”
This weekend's tournament — at the Velocity All Sports Center in Mokena, Illinois — is sure to provide a stern test for the young Bermudians.
“There are 68 teams in this tournament and the calibre is extremely high,” Hamilton said. “Some of the best players from the United States are going to be there, from the east coast to Chicago, they've got quality clubs.
“The difficulty for us is that we do not get any competition. We have no other local teams to really play against other than the men's national team and [our opponents] tour every single weekend and play in competitions.
“So our guys, when they go out there it's often like deers in the headlights and not knowing what to expect, but I'm hoping they'll participate strongly.”
Hamilton is encouraged by a strong performance in the Boys Belligerents Tournament in Atlanta in April, in which one of two Bermuda junior national teams won the silver pool, of the second tier of eight teams.
“This is what we believe is our select team and we hope that they will do really well,” Hamilton said. ”We are hoping to be able to get the stream off the Bermuda Volleyball Association's Facebook page, so people can follow it there.”
As with several sports in Bermuda, money is an issue for the national volleyball teams, but with summer coming there are several beach tournaments that will help with funding.
“As soon as they finish this, when they return, Daniel will be starting the beach programme,” Hamilton said, referring to Fiddick. “The one thing Bermuda has to understand is it's really difficult for us because for us to be able to train, we have to have a gym, and a quality gym to do it in. Gym time kills us. We literally this year alone will have spent $12,000 on gym time. We have to do fundraising and tournaments as best we can. It's 1, having the competition, but 2, also having the funding to be able to continue and develop programmes like this.
“Coaches are not paid for their time at all, so really it's down to money, which is required for uniforms, for travel, so our gym time costs $12,000. This trip is going to cost us $10,000. So again, how often can you compete in competition when you're going away and spending that kind of money? It's very hard for us. We want to give the boys as many opportunities as we can, but funding is always a challenge for us and probably other national sports.
“Obviously, Government supports local sports like football and cricket. We don't get the same kind of financial support, so the boys have to pull it out of their pocket or go fundraise. We have beach tournaments throughout the summer. The boys are going to be running one on July 7. The tournaments are always brilliant because it's a great day out in the sun, you're hitting around, you jump in the ocean and have a swim.”