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Creating More Thunder

Mike Meyers, president of Marshall University's women's volleyball booster club, the Thundering Spikers, talks about how the club has spent the last year rejuvenating interest in the sport.

Mike Meyers grew up one block from Marshall University's football stadium and would climb the fence to get into games. "I was always a Marshall fan," says Meyers, a retired software engineer and president of the Thundering Spikers, the official booster club of Marshall University's women's volleyball team. "I didn't go to college there, because at the time, Marshall didn't offer a comprehensive engineering program. But after graduation, I was still with Marshall. I've been a season-ticket holder for the football and basketball programs for many, many years, and I've been a member of the Big Green Club, the umbrella fundraising club for the university for more than 30 years."

It was this allegiance that introduced Meyers to the women's volleyball program and Women's Volleyball Coach Mike Jacobs, who had spent four years revamping the program into the national spotlight. With the team's renewed success on the court and move into a new conference, the need for a facility upgrade was becoming more serious. Although Marshall is in the midst of an athletic capital improvement plan, it does not include renovating the volleyball facilities. Undeterred, Coach Jacobs took the same enthusiasm he has for his volleyball program into revamping the team's booster club. It was during the 2006 NCAA playoffs when Jacobs and Meyers discussed these needs that Meyers volunteered his services to Jacobs, who quickly took up the offer.

Since May, the booster club has undergone a major renovation of itself. It is formally recognized by the school, and has been successfully campaigning for donations and volunteer help, reaching alumni hardly touched by more prominent organizations, generating a fan base that was mostly non-existent, and surprising themselves at the amount of support and interest their club is receiving. Meyers talked with recently about this resurgence, the volleyball facility upgrades, and how the Thundering Spikers plan to increase the standard of play while the volleyball team defends its Conference USA title.

FFS: How did you get involved with the Thundering Spikers?
MM: I attended a "Paint the Capital City Green," which is held here in Charleston by the Big Green Club, the main booster club of Marshall University. Members of all the athletic teams, coaching staff and so forth, came to Charleston that night for one giant pep rally, attended by several hundred people. I'm a supporter of the athletics program at the university in general, and Marshall had all the different coaches come up to a stage area and speak. Then, the coaches went around, and the different teams and student-athletes put brochures on tables. One of them I picked up was from the volleyball team. 'Well,' I thought, 'I'll just check out the volleyball team's match.'

So I went, and I have never seen anything like it! If you like sports competition, you'll like women's volleyball—I just fell in love with it. I attended all the games the rest of the season and noticed that there wasn't really any kind of an organized booster club. It was when won the Conference USA Championship and went onto the NCAAs that I approached Coach Jacobs and said, 'Hey, I've got time. Would you like to have some help organizing?' He just jumped at the chance.

That I found out was that he did have a group called the Thundering Spikers as a booster club with a roster of members. It was primarily some of the bigger boosters of Marshall athletics, who contribute almost everything, and parents of team members, so it was very, very small. I thought to myself, 'Okay, we can just go nowhere but up.'

What were your first series of meetings like?
Coach Jacobs and I met a couple more times on our own and then with others who had an interest in the program. We decided that we would not re-organize, but just basically organize. We quickly agreed that we needed to be officially recognized and have officers and so forth. At that point, Jacobs was head of the club, but asked me to be president. I said, 'Okay, I'll take it.' Then he asked another gentleman, Mike Strictland, who has a daughter on the team, if he wanted to be vice president. Mike agreed, and then the other officer is an acquaintance of the coach, who works with him at community and youth volleyball programs Coach Jacobs runs. Since then, we've been holding regular meetings, soliciting more members, soliciting memberships through contributions, and establishing levels of membership.

How are the Thundering Spikers soliciting new members?
The most important thing, which we are very fortunate to be able to do, is piggyback functions that are being done by other sports organizations. All summer long and in the spring there have been golf outings, picnics, and other functions by other organizations—such as the football club, basketball clubs, and other arms of university fundraising—that the head coach and I have been attending. At these events, we have been allowed to talk to the crowds and pass out brochures to promote interest in the volleyball team. During our speeches, we've been taking advantage of the fact that we are the 2006 Conference USA Champions—and the only Conference USA Champions at Marshall University. That really gets people's attention.

We also had a huge mailing campaign, where we mailed out a letter stating the needs of the women's volleyball program—not the club's needs. We've also gone into Charleston, which is 50 miles away from campus, because it's really virgin territory for Marshall University, in terms of businesses and personal donors. There are a lot of graduates of Marshall in the Charleston area, but they're not contacted much, so we're trying to get out, knock on doors, attend functions, speak to them, and get to know them and them, us.

Another thing is that we've had other organizations throughout campus—primarily the women's basketball club—that we use as a road map in terms of putting ourselves together and compensating people for their different levels of membership. We have examples to go by, so we haven't had to totally walk out into the night in the dark.

These types of things—to be visible and to get known—have really increased support for the Thundering Spikers.

What is the student-athletes' role in the Thundering Spikers?
Most of their schedule have them at away games, so it's hard to get their attention right now. They're just constantly going, and somewhere in between they have to squeeze in schoolwork. They're constantly on the move for months. It gets hard on them, so even if we did have functions at campus, the student just would not have been available. The coaches are different, but the players are students first. But what they are doing is that after each game, they're coming up to the stands, talking to people, sitting around a long table around the court signing autographs and staying until the last one is signed—and this is even before they take their showers. They're making themselves available to fans in that sense. If we have dinners and stuff like that, they will be involved.

How are people expressing their interests for the Thundering Spikers?
I just came from a luncheon today and I couldn't get away. I had a tough time because people kept coming up to me talking about what they could do. I also had several people hand me several checks. It's good, but we just need more of it. The university has been receptive, as well as the athletic administration. The athletic administration has actually been surprised at how well we've come together. It's just that there was really nothing there to start with, and what we've been able to pull together has raised some eyebrows—like with the Web site I put together. Even that right there is something that the other clubs—as well established as they are—don't even have. So that was something that caught the department off-guard.

Please explain the Web site and its significance toward reaching the club's goals.
The Web site came about because we have this project to remodel the women's volleyball locker room. The locker room is, in our opinion, sub-standard for the conference we're in. We moved up from the Mid-American Conference last year, and the conference we're in today is a better conference with higher standards—and we need to come up to those standards. As a booster club, we need to provide the volleyball program with a volleyball team with a higher standard toward being a conference championship team. Also, the coach expressed that he has had some negative comments when recruits have come in and viewed the locker room and volleyball facilities.

One of our challenges as a club is to help raise the funds for this locker room upgrade. A couple of the members have sketches that an artist put together of what we want this place to look like. We want to make this visible to people so people can see what we're wanting to do when we go out and ask for money.

I used to be a Web master, and when some other Marshall booster clubs suggested the Thundering Spikers create a Web site to publicize the program's needs and those sketches, I said, 'Yes, I can do that.' Although the main thrust was to make the locker room upgrade concept available to people, I just expanded it to be a total-club Web site, where any information about the club, about the team, any information about what's going on can be learned, as well as information on the locker room upgrade. I have photos of what we're doing at games. If you go there, you'll see some other members at matches, news articles, and so forth, so it's a bit comprehensive.

Since the Web site links through the athletic department's homepage, did the booster club need special compliance approval from Marshall?
After I put it together, I sent the links to the coach, asking him what he thought, and then sent it to other members of the Thundering Spikers for more input. I made a few revisions based on all of that and sent it to the NCAA-compliance office at Marshall. I asked them to please review the site because I do not want to cause any problems. I didn't want anything on there that shouldn't be. They reviewed it and gave me feedback, saying, 'Okay, here are the rules: Don't do this, don't do that. Otherwise, it's okay.'

I hadn't done anything they told me not to do--I had enough of my own common sense not to do those things. Their focus was recruiting, and there's nothing on the site about recruiting. Once I got the okay from the compliance office, it was up to the athletic department to review. There were no objections from them, so I introduced it to the world. From the time it took for all approvals to be reviewed was less than three weeks.

Please explain the volleyball locker room renovation project and how is the club working with the university on this project.
There is a huge upgrade on Marshall's campus that will be starting soon. Part of that is to upgrade the men's and women's basketball locker rooms. The volleyball locker rooms were left out, so in order for us to do what we have to do, we have to do it with all freely donated money to cover whatever expenses there are.

Right now, we're focusing on appearance, tearing down some walls, relocating some facilities, and enlarging the study area within the locker room. Our goal is to give the locker room an air of being a place where student-athletes can lounge between practice and other events so they don't have to go back to their dorms. They can study there as well, since we'll have computers set up. The shower room facilities are in a bad location, so we're moving those to a more secluded area. It'll be just facility improvements—we're not doing any particular equipment upgrades.

Who is the club working with to make these upgrades?
We've been soliciting help along with donations, and contractors and skilled labor workers have already volunteered their time to do the plumbing and electrical work. We have other contractors who have volunteered to send people over, such as a carpenter, for a week to help out, too. We also have a contractor who has volunteered to come in and do an item-by-item listing, giving us an estimate of the work. He will act as the project manager for us. He's currently soliciting more volunteer help from other contractors, and then he will set out to collect donated materials. Whatever material is not donated, the Thundering Spikers will pay for, but first we have to see what we can collect. We're very fortunate that these people are willing to work in our timeframe.

What will the impact of these renovations have on the program's recruiting efforts?
It will be similar to how football programs recruit, but on a smaller scale. When the recruit comes into the new locker room, it will be Marshall-theme. It will be a volleyball-theme. It will look like something people will want to spend a lot of time in. The study area will have trophy cases and a TV—not only for entertainment purposes—but primarily for film study and getting ready for upcoming games. It's going to make the players think that this is their place. Today, the atmosphere is like, 'It's the locker room, next to the gym.' You go there, get dressed, get ready for the game, play, change, and leave. When we have visitors from other schools, we want them to feel like they're at a Conference USA school, so we want our facilities to be at that level.

Will these facility upgrades be promoted to host high school tournaments?
That's always a possibility, but what we really want to do is host some of our own classic tournaments so we don't have to travel so much and we want to continue to increase our attendance numbers. Our first few games last year would bring in a few hundred or so. By the end of last year, we'd bring in over a thousand—which is a significant increase. Part of it is due to us going out there and talking, but the main reason is the level of play. Everyone likes winners, and winners always have fans. We've been winners for the past four years since Coach Jacobs came here, and it's just growing and growing. We feel these new upgrades will add to this.

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