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Pandemic doesn’t halt nation’s largest AAU volleyball tournament

The Orlando-based event normally hosts more than 2,800 teams. This year, however, that number is down to around 500.

The largest volleyball tournament in the United States will go on this summer — though quite a bit smaller than advertised thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 47th annual AAU Volleyball Nationals, originally scheduled for mid-June, has been shortened from 13 days to just nine, taking place July 14-22 in Orlando. An event that typically draws more than 2,800 teams is down to around 500, according to Amateur Athletic Union president/CEO Dr. Roger J. Goudy.

The tournament, which partnered with Orlando Health to implement safety and health-related protocols, has made many adjustments. As a nod to the current climate of social distancing, executives cut out the traditional opening ceremony, which typically brings all of the teams together. Spectators are not allowed, but teams can have up to 10 chaperones per roster. Those passes can be handed off to others so that multiple people have a chance to enjoy the tournament.

Goudy, 68, said the tournament normally has more than 160 courts set up between the two locations, the Orange County Convention Center and Disney’s Wide World of Sports’ HP Field House. This year, only 80 courts will be in use between the north and south halls at the convention center, in part because of the NBA’s interest in using the Disney facility to complete the rest of their season.

Related: Pandemic forces new priorities for Tampa Bay youth sports teams that travel

If the AAU wanted to postpone the event again, Goudy said it would have to confer with the National Federation of State High School Associations because the tournament would end up overlapping with the prep season.

“I wouldn’t want to risk the possibility of any of these kids losing their eligibility for school sports,” Goudy said. “The big determining factor would be what Florida would allow us to do because a lot of the teams, obviously, will be from Florida, and we’d check some of those contiguous states like Georgia and South Carolina, and some of them to see what their rules entail.”

Assuming the tournament is held next month, anyone who enters the convention center in Orlando must have his or her temperature taken at the door at the start of the morning and afternoon sessions. Teams will be given staggered arrival times. In between sessions, the courts will be sanitized.

International teams were not allowed to compete this year. Exceptions were made for teams from Puerto Rico, although Goudy, who splits time between Florida and Ohio, estimated not as many teams from outside the state wanted to join this year because of travel concerns.

Also new to the tournament: a high school girls division. The three-day setup will showcase players 18 and under and might be a division the AAU adds in years to come depending on how it fares next month.

“I think everybody needs to get involved and active again,” he said. “I hope we don’t go through another bout of this COVID.”

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