Wake Up, Miami Beach Commissioners! You're All About Volleyball

Categories: El Jefe
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Roxana Morales leaps to return a spiked volleyball on the dirty sand court near the ancient band shell on Collins Avenue at 73rd Street. A generator that sputters in the background powers dim lights, so she can barely see. She misses.

Even this jury-rigged system won't last long. The generator is borrowed. The coach, a seasoned pro named Carlos Jimenez, pays for the gas himself. Though the 100 or so players who use the place have been lobbying the City of Miami Beach for months to use one of several other little-used, well-lighted spots, nothing has happened.

The reason: Budgets are tight, and bureaucrats can't make up their minds.

"Miami Beach is known for volleyball," says Morales, a mother of two who has spearheaded the battle with city hall. "All we need is space, but they just won't do anything."

Volleyball has been identified with Miami Beach since the 1930s, when Beach High won its first state championship. Pro events are often held here, the girls' Junior Olympics took place on South Beach last year, and a new version of the game, footvolley, was recently invented on SoBe's sands. Misty May Treanor, probably the best-known volleyball player in the world, lives not far away in Coral Springs and has been seen at the ocean-side courts on Eighth Street.

Carlos Jimenez's volleyball academy has trained about 1,000 players since it was created in 2006. They come from virtually every country in South America, where the game is extremely popular, as well as, of course, Miami Beach and Europe. Some are adults, such as Roxana Morales. Many are kids who play themed tournaments like King and Queen of the Beach or vie for spots on the Extreme Volleyball Professionals tour, where Jimenez is both a coach and director.

Indeed, Jimenez changed the face of Miami Beach volleyball when he moved here in 2006. The academy started at the Scott Rakow Center on Dade Boulevard, where an indoor sand court provided a perfect venue. Then, last spring, the city began remodeling the facility, and the academy had to move out.

They headed to the beat-up courts on the beach several miles north near the North Beach Bandshell. Morales lent Jimenez some lights and the generator, which worked fine for a while. But when Daylight Saving Time ended, darkness enveloped the courts.

"It's already dark at 6 when the classes start," complains Viviana Tenenbaum, an Argentine mother of two who's been playing since high school. "And the light isn't right. We have had guys with glasses who had to quit because they couldn't see the ball."

So the players began approaching Miami Beach officials with several sensible solutions. Maybe they could add lights to courts a few blocks north at 76th Street. In fact, environmental regulators had already approved them -- and the nearby parking lot is already lighted. Or perhaps rarely used tennis courts on Normandy Isle or in North Shore Park could be converted. Jimenez had supervised such conversions in the past.

The answer was bureaucracy. At first, they were told they could buy lights. That didn't work. They cost about $3,500 for each set, and six or more would be needed. Then there was the electricity cost. "That was just too much money for our small group," Tenebaum says.

Ben Torter, an assistant to Commissioner Ed Tobin, spoke with parks director Kevin Smith about it. But nothing happened. So the women began circulating a petition. So far, they have gathered more than 100 signatures.

Recently, they have received responses from Commissioner Jerry Libbin and Kathie Brooks, director of the Office of Budget and Performamce Improvement. The city is pondering a formal vote on the lights, but strapped budgets will make approval difficult.

"The point is that there are parks in the area that have lights," Morales says. "We will pay for sand, poles, and net, but we just need a space."


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