MARENGO – Richard Desmond learned how to play volleyball in the jungle.
It was 1968, and Desmond was serving in the Vietnam War. He and his fellow soldiers played for fun during downtime, routinely destroying the net, to their commanding officer’s chagrin.
Desmond, now 70, has found a less exotic but more sophisticated place to play. The Sun City Huntley resident is one of a handful of senior citizens from the greater McHenry County area who plays in Club Fusion’s 55-and-older volleyball league. The teams practice at the club’s Marengo facility up to three times a week in the winter and every Friday in the summer.
Most of the players met at the Huntley Park District facility, and they come from all kinds of backgrounds. Some are retired firefighters, some were teachers and others were entrepreneurs.
All love volleyball, want to stay in shape and like the camaraderie and competition.
“This is a very nice facility and we’re very happy to be here,” Desmond said, then joked that he’d like to see Fusion bring in a buffet.
About a year ago, Desmond, Dave Keys and other players felt the Huntley Park District was allocating more time to pickleball and less to volleyball. Keys, a retired Sycamore native in his 60s, called Fusion owner Bill Milborn and asked if he had courts available a few times each week during the day.
Every night for 10 months, Fusion’s four-court facility hums with high school club players. It is silent most afternoons. Milborn and his staff opened the doors, more than a dozen players followed Keys, and Fusion became the first club in northern Illinois to run a program for senior citizens.
“Anybody can play,” Keys said. “There were a lot of people at Huntley just like me who just wanted to play. And I thought I could get better at it.”
The league’s popularity has prompted Milborn to expand it. Players can register for fall leagues at clubfusionvb.org throughout the first week of September. Games begin the following week.
The cost is $100 for 13 weeks – barely enough to turn the lights on at Fusion, but affordable for many living on retirement incomes.
There are no cuts and no set teams. There are no position players; everyone sets, digs, hits and plays six rotations. There are no referees or coaches. Players range from novices to those with more polished skill sets.
That doesn’t mean it’s not competitive. The players won the Six County Senior Olympics in Aurora in July, and a handful played on last year’s championship team as well. Soon, Fusion will hang the team’s championship banner on the wall next to Court 4, where the team prefers to play.
“They’re very competitive,” Fusion Business Office Manager Tammi Haverly said. “They work really hard, and it’s great exercise. And volleyball is something you can play forever. You can play it in your backyard, or you can play it somewhere like here.”
“They still have that fire in them,” Milborn added. “Volleyball is a good sport for them.”