The Badgers volleyball team's season was delayed until an early 2021 start, and the team has been practicing. With availability on Election Day for a change, the Badgers will be working at local polls instead. (Photo by UW Athletics)
The Badgers volleyball team's season was delayed until an early 2021 start, and the team has been practicing. With availability on Election Day for a change, the Badgers will be working at local polls instead. (Photo by UW Athletics)

Not all the players were registered to vote, either. Now they are. 

When Kelly Sheffield had to deliver the news that his Badgers volleyball team’s season had been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, he really wanted to put it in a larger context for his team.

“We talked about how it didn’t just impact us, but how it impacted the community,” Sheffield said. “We talked about the small businesses that depend on those game days.”

At that point, a player chimed in with a question that would make any coach or parent proud: “What can we do to help?”

Sheffield had a good idea how his team could help the community, sparked by watching the news and hearing reports of a possible shortage of workers and long lines at some polling places. He suggested the Badgers make a one-day switch from volleyball players to poll workers on Election Day.

“I go and vote and see the average age of the people who are working the polls,” Sheffield said. “You understand their fears and what COVID is doing to that age group. This [volleyball team] is a pretty healthy group. It felt like something we could help with if our season got postponed.”

Fifty-eight percent of poll workers for the 2018 general election were ages 61 and over, according to the Pew Research Center, with 27 percent over 70. Only 4% were in the 18-25 age group. In Wisconsin, 89% of deaths from COVID-19 have been people over age 60.

Sheffield’s staff researched the requirements to see what team members needed to do to help. Not all were registered to vote in Dane County, which is required to be a poll worker. All team members who are U.S. citizens are now registered to vote.

Changes at the NCAA this fall make it easier for athletes to be part of the democratic process. They will essentially have Election Day off – no games, no practices – because of a new rule proposed by the NCAA’s Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

The lesson is greater than politics, Sheffield said. The effort opens his team’s world beyond volleyball and college, which generally absorb their lives most of the time.

“It makes them realize they have a say in the process and sometimes when you’re younger, you don’t really feel like you do,” he said. “It reinforces that and it reinforces being engaged in the community.”