A West Michigan family says a volleyball tournament claiming to be a recruiting opportunity almost led them to Colorado this summer.
They asked 13 On Your Side to investigate the company after red flags popped up surrounding the event.
"I'm not a mom with grand illusions”, says Angie VanMalsen, whose daughter, Cassidy, is on the varsity team at Wayland High School. “She's a good player, dependable, and she plays different positions. She also plays club volleyball. "It's almost a year-round sport for us.”
Cassidy recently had an article written about her in the local newspaper. A few weeks later, she got a letter delivered to her school.
"We just didn't know what to think of it, " she said.
It was from USA Junior Nationals. Cassidy was invited to try out for the national team. The tournament was in Denver, Colorado and it said there would be recruiters from across the country. "My schools not really known for volleyball, so colleges don't look at us, so being looked at, made me excited about it", says Cassidy.
Angie sent-in the $125 application fee and they went to the try-outs in Lansing. Angie says "When we got there, it was a tiny community center, with elementary gym floor and no nets."
"I thought it was weird. It's kind of hard to play volleyball without nets. It didn't seem like a tryout for a national team", says Cassidy. The group did some drills and made it work. The next day she got good news. She made the national team. It would cost an additional $700 dollars plus hotel rooms for the family. Angie just had a few more questions for the organizers.
She called the number and it was out of service. When she emailed the company she was told they were in the process of moving and was re-assured that she could still sign-up. In the meantime, Cassidy asked her coach about the tournament. "He didn't have a clue what the organization even was."
There were too many red flags. Angie reached out to 13 on your side for help. We found a website for USA Junior Nationals, but it's not a sanctioned event. Bill Kauffman with USA Volleyball says, "I have not heard of this event and it is in no way associated with USA Volleyball and our USA Volleyball Girls' Junior National Championships which will be held in Detroit."
We also found a YouTube video warning other parents about the event. In this case, it was basketball.
"The number one thing you want to do is do your research", says Jason Johnson, Associate Head Volleyball Coach at Grand Valley State University. He's in the middle of their recruiting season. He says if a student wants to go to college nearby, there is no reason to travel across the country to be seen by a recruiter.
"If you want to stay within three hours of where you live, then attend as many events closer to home, makes sense. That's where local schools will recruit. "I would say No. 1 is club tournaments. This time of year, we're out at numerous tournaments across the Midwest, " he said.
As for the event claiming to be USA Junior Nationals, 13 on your side called the organizer. A man named George Blue says the event is more like a camp. "
"To increase their technique and skills. It's just a regular camp." He said he wasn't sure if there were going to be any recruiters there, but at this point, it doesn't matter. "It was canceled. We didn't have enough interest in the event, so we canceled the whole program."
The website has since been taken down.
"That's the thing, I'm only out $125 at this point. I didn't send any money for the Denver registration, but it's just disappointing that people are out there doing this stuff to people," Angie says
Johnson says there are plenty of legitimate tournaments and camps out there. You have to do your research and get referrals from friends and family. Chances are, if it's worth it, your athletic director or coach will know about it.
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