The day I entered the third grade was the day my sports career would go from recreational leagues and tri-city teams to competitive travel sports. At least 6-7 times a season I would be traveling across the country for 3-5 day tournaments, with my parents shelling out money for travel, hotel, food and whatever else I needed. Not many parents or athletes realize what they are getting into when they join a travel team, especially an elite team. — Kerry Brown, Former Division 1 Volleyball Athlete
Club Life: Willing to Pay the Price
The loaf of bread and jars of peanut butter and jelly were always in the car. Lamberti and his wife, Kathy, would have pretzels and fruit to round out the meal. The Cary couple learned as soon as their eldest daughter, Lauren, began playing club volleyball for Crystal Lake-based Sky High that they needed to budget.
“I had many, many conversations with parents and club directors about how expensive it was getting,” said Lamberti of the travel costs he and Kathy incurred in the 10 years Lauren and youngest daughter, Kelly, played for Sky High.
“But you sacrifice for your kid. You find a way to make it work.”
Families who send daughters through Sky High or Marengo-based Club Fusion often lose track of the thousands they spend on playing fees, uniforms, out-of-town tournaments and miscellaneous expenses. Some families estimate they spent upward of $100,000 for three daughters during a decade of elite club play.
Despite the costs, club teams are viewed by many parents as an investment.
Pay-to-play fees at both local volleyball clubs range from $1,200 for younger players to between $2,000 and $2,300 at higher levels. It typically is more expensive to play on a top-tier team than a lower-tier team, in part because there is more travel and hotels, food, airfare and incidentals must be factored in for out-of-town tournaments.
Lamberti’s daughters received Division I scholarships, Lauren to the University of Connecticut and Kelly to Ohio University, where she will be a junior. The girls weren’t playing for Sky High at the same time for more than a year, which helped keep the Lambertis’ budget in check.
Owners at both Sky High and Fusion understand their brand is pricey, which intensifies the need to ensure families get what they pay for.
Families also have to account for the time required to compete in club sports.
Most club volleyball players stress their education comes before their time on the court, but admit they must find quiet moments to take care of academic obligations.
By the end of this season, recent St. Charles East graduate Emma Johnson thought little of being awake at 3 a.m. with a textbook in hand.
Volleyball was a significant part of the daily routine Johnson had constructed: school, homework, practices and a social life. Johnson wouldn’t change a thing.