by Rosalie Murphy

Four sand volleyball courts will be open for play in a parking lot behind the old B.F. Goodrich plant this summer.

Summit Sports & Social, which is constructing the courts in partnership with the Knight Foundation and the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition, has been operating summer volleyball leagues for years, but hopes the new location will allow them to grow their community and get more people spending time downtown.

“This is so incredibly important for us to stay in downtown Akron,” says Summit Sports & Social co-founder Logan Jennings. “The genesis of the whole business was, we want to give people something to do here… We’re not reinventing the wheel, but there’s value in people playing in the city.”

Summit Sports & Social launched as Stay In Play Recreation in 2016. That summer, 48 people played in a sand volleyball league on the courts behind Canal Park.

Stay In Play later added a kickball league, bocce ball and spike ball on Cascade Plaza, and winter volleyball and dodgeball leagues indoors.

The founders, Logan and Andrew Novak, estimate that they grew to about 400 players annually by 2018. But that was where they had to stop.

The courts behind Canal Park were inaccessible whenever the Rubber Ducks had fireworks, which eliminated most opportunities for weekend leagues. Plus, the court drained poorly, so puddles of water could sit for days after summer storms. And when construction began on the State Street Bridge, the courts were out of commission.

So the men approached funders and began searching for a downtown site.

“We’re all just staring at a Google map, and we said, ‘hey, what about this space? It’s a little bit gnarly. It’s industrial. But we kind of love it,” Logan says. “It’s Akron in a nutshell. It’s a little bit gritty. There’s going to be some cool contrast with where Akron was and where we hope it’s going.”

Summit Sports and Social will organize leagues on most weeknights, the founders say. But any courts that aren’t taken up by league play will available for public use as long as the parking lot’s lights are on.

“Pun intended, we don’t want to build these courts and take our ball and go home,” Logan says. “Obviously this is going to support our business, but when those courts aren’t programmed by us, by all means, go play.”

The parking lot also serves Canal Place, which is now home to Missing Falls Brewery, Bounce Innovation Hub and companies that employ hundreds of people. R. Shea Brewing is building a new production facility nearby.

The new site is adjacent to the Towpath, and a path will connect the trail to the courts.

“If you’re college kids that live in the [Merriman] Valley, you can hop on your bike and go play volleyball downtown. It’s a nice space that’s going to complement everything happening down at Summit Lake. It’s a tremendous asset, being right off the Towpath,” Logan says.

“People who are passing through are going to see and notice this now, hopefully with some activity going on. It gives them a different perception of what downtown is and how they can take a quick pit stop,” Andrew adds.

The founders hope the courts will be ready in late May.

To get involved, join Summit Sports & Social for a pre-season party on May 15 from 5:30 pm to 8 pm at Musica. To join a league, visit http://www.stayinplayrec.com/join-a-league.

Rosalie Murphy is Editor-in-Chief of The Devil Strip. Full disclosure: She’s already signed up for this summer’s rec volleyball league.

Photos, sequentially: Used with permission from Andrew Novak; by Tim Fitzwater via Akronstock; used with permission from Andrew Novak.

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