As it first appeared in the Xavier Newswire in the December 8th, 2010 issue:
By: Steve Rosenbaum
Surrounded by coils of barbed-wire, tons of steel and concrete and a mob of prison inmates, the Xavier men’s club volleyball team lined up toe-to-toe with their opponent, the Luther Luckett Correctional Facility volleyball team.
Playing in the toughest of venues in LaGrange, Ky., the club volleyball team overcame an early deficit in game one and swept two best-of-three matches.
“We played two best-of-three matches against the inmates and [won] every game,” sophomore club president Mike Czopek said. “However, this event wasn’t about the outcome, but about volunteering and providing competition for the LLCC team.”
This idea started around midterms last spring, as Czopek received an e-mail from Damon Romel, a recreational leader from LLCC. At first, Czopek did a double-take, as an e-mail from a prison was not something he was expecting.
After working with club advisor Justin Link and James Alexander, the director of club sports at Xavier, Czopek and club treasurer Brandt Bernat decided to seriously pursue the idea.
Czopek and Bernat remained in contact with Romel throughout the summer, and the two settled on a date of Nov. 6 for the matches.
As the sixth neared, LLCC required all club members who were participating to undergo a background check for security purposes. Each club member was also told what they could and could not bring into the complex. Food and drinks were allowed, but cell phones and iPods were banned.
Once Nov. 6 rolled around, the Muskies trekked 70 miles south, and entered the minimum/medium security prison.
After going through a number of steel doors, metal detectors and security checkpoints, the team eventually entered the prison gym.
While the club was technically the visitors, the Musketeers quickly found out that an originally-intimidating prison mob was cheering for the club, not the prison team. This was because many of the inmates watching the game were cut from the prison team and wanted to see their peers lose.
The prison fans were thrilled to witness the inmate loss, but more importantly, the Muskies had such a positive experience that the two teams agreed to play an integrated match.
“When we mixed the teams was when we had the most fun and best experience,” said Czopek. “We all got to know some of the inmates and cheered each other on as the match went on.”
Besides playing at LLCC this fall, the club brought home first place in the silver bracket at Dayton’s annual tournament and tied for fifth at Michigan State University’s Hardwood Classic. The club is also looking to host its first tournament this spring and will also travel to Houston for nationals this April.
Ultimately, the Musketeers are planning on making the prison trip an annual tradition because of the club’s experience with the inmates.