- Sports , Student
A behind-the-scenes-look at Hajraa
Student volleyball association Hajraa will hold its annual Outside Tournament (OT) for the 41st time this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That is to say, that’s when the tournament starts for the five thousand players who will travel to the volleyball fields on the TU/e terrain from far and wide to take part in Europe’s largest grass volleyball tournament. The tournament started at a much earlier date for the hundred and fifty volunteers who need to make sure that everything runs like clockwork. Back in October, the tournament’s organizers started to work so that the final chores and preparations during the last two weeks would run smoothly.
“By now, the tournament is organized professionally, but it still has a student-like feel to it,” according to Panchito and Ab, two of the volunteers portrayed in the text below. We are not going to introduce the OT commission here, suffice it to say that it is made up of nine people who hold weekly meetings with external parties, and who convene in a small office at TU/e once a week to work at the tournament. The commission has no trouble finding volunteers who are willing to lend a hand; members of Harjaa enjoy being part of the tournament. “In any case, it’s really nice that the volunteers get to do something physical for a change,” Marijn Kruit says, “after having spent a whole year behind their laptops.” In the text below, you will learn how much work it takes to make sure there’s room for everyone on the campground, and to ensure that thousands of volleyball players get to play their matches and have fun during the tournament.
Milou Bruinenberg and Tom van Veen are two experienced campground managers. They previously served as vice-president and president of the OT commission from 2015 until 2017 and were in charge of Harjaa’s campsites. Tom talks about ‘managing chaos the moment five thousand people arrive,’ and Milou once unblocked forty toilets with her hands. She doesn’t do that anymore!
Tom and Milou manage the tasks mostly performed by volunteers. They make sure that the people in charge of security and handing out entrance armlets, the bartenders, and all the others, are at the right place on time with the material they need, and that they know what to do. The physically most demanding task is placing a kilometer-long fence along the two campsites by the Dommel.
The most critical moment comes Friday afternoon, when everyone wants to set up their tents at the same time. “Some teams, such as Fyrfad from Maastricht and US Amsterdam, have tents that are so large you could perform a cantus inside,” Tom says. And Taurus from Houten is a well-known team on the campground as well. “They have their own toilet rolls and throw them up in the trees as high as they can.” The campground managers have to make sure the terrain is clean afterwards, and therefore “hope for a good shower of rain.” On Wednesday preferably, because they clean up until then. Surprisingly, even though Harjaa is a well-oiled machine by now when it comes to picking up cigarette butts and disposing of garbage, it still takes them hours and days after the last guests are well on their way home.
Things that always happen
“The question isn’t whether or not a power failure occurs, but when,” Milou says. And when it happens, it’s up to her to solve the problem, armed with a flashlight and assisted by electricity supplier Van Happen via the telephone. Something else you can be a hundred percent sure of, is that the toilets become blocked, Milou knows. “And then the vice-president has to show up to do the dirty job. During my year (2015- ed.), I unblocked forty toilets with my bare hands, that is, wearing gloves and an overall made out of garbage bags.” There are pictures of this, but we’ll spare you those.
There is a special sanitation island at the northside of the Auditorium since last year that can be reached via the so-called weed bridge. This bio-based composite footbridge was tested especially for the occasion, and the railings were fitted with a special covering to make it drunk-person-proof.
Learning moment of Milou :“We order some see-through fences now as well. Because if we use foil to cover the parts of the fence that we place in a triangle in order to make the entire wall wind-proof, people will use that space to relieve themselves.”
To them, Harjaa’s outdoor tournament is ‘one giant playground for photographers.’ Nynke de Jong will cover the tournament for the third time this year and easily shoots twelve hours of video footage each day. Sander Peters has been on the PR team a year longer and takes approximately one thousand pictures per day. They do it because they want the participants to be able to relive the weekend.
“We want to capture the entire story,” Nynke says. “It’s a great day out with the camera for us.” Like the other five members of the PR team, Nynke goes out and tries to make as many beautiful shots as she can. Action footage of games, relaxed shots on the campground, teams in outrageous outfits, a short clip of a bizarre yell, everything is possible.
For Sander, the tournament’s highlight (literally, wait and see) comes when the song Narcotic by Liquido is played during the party in the Markthal at MetaForum. “The entire hall explodes as soon as the song starts to play, and everyone starts to jump up and down and throw beer.” Nynke has learned “to start running for your live” with her expensive camera at that moment. But Sander sometimes observes the scene from a hydraulic lift platform, used for constructing and dismantling the podium, and loves to record that explosion in one shot.
You become something of a ‘crowd magnet’ when you’re making your way through a festive group of people, according to Sander “People constantly come up to you and ask you to take a picture. If you’re not careful, the crowd will engulf you and your fellow volunteers won’t be able to find you. We’ve sometimes joked about bringing along those flags you see on bicycles so that people know where you are.” A loud green t-shirt alone won’t cut it during a party.
When they are not wandering around the campground or getting lost in a partying crowd, Sander and Nynke can be found at ‘Crisis.’ This is the cafeteria of football club Woenselse Boys that serves as an editing room and as the OT commission’s operating base for the duration of the tournament. “That is where I cut twelve hours of video footage back to a six-minute movie,” Nynke says. And Sander looks at thousands of pictures before eventually choosing the gems. “Nice promotional material for the next edition of the tournament.”
Lizet Geertsma and Jet van den Broek find chauffeuring for the Outside Tournament relaxed, cool and exciting at the same time. Together with Thijs van Kessel and Marijn Kruit, they drive two rental vans and play a vital part in the organization. Their works starts on the Monday before the tournament’s opening, and they drive across the country to pick up equipment.
Many volunteers spend the week prior to the first day of the tournament working hard at preparing and setting everything up, but for many of them, it feels like an OT vacation as well. This is also true for Lizet and Jet. “We take time off from our study and internship especially for this,” Jet says. She boldly states: “On Monday, we clean out the entire Harjaa house first.” What she means is that the people doing the heavy lifting collect all the signs and material they need for the tournament (such as price lists, signposts and decoration material for the tournament) and place it in her van. She then drives to the tournament site where others empty the van. Meanwhile, the second bus is busy transporting matrasses. Lizet: “If they want us to, we will pick up a volunteer’s matrass and bring it to ‘Crisis,’ the home base of Woenselse Boys where the commission and the volunteers camp out all week.” This way, you can be present during the preparation week 24/7 (wakeup call included) and comfortablyspend the night in your own bed.
It feels cool driving a van. Especially when you see several people doing the heavy lifting in your rearview mirror while you’re driving at footpace with a trailer carrying concrete blocks and fences. Bare-chested and sweaty they put up the fence around the campground. A chauffie also has to carry out some tricky traffic maneuvers sometimes. “We get a lot of respect, especially from women,” Lizet and Jet say. “You must have some nerve to do that, is what they tell us.”
The chauffies don’t need to have a special driver’s license, but the van really is very large. “You take up two parking spaces, and the van is very tall as well. You realize that when you need to drive under trees,” Jet says.
They need to collect a lot of material for a hundred playing fields. They drive to Budel and Middelbeers for the nets, poles, pins and hooks, and they also have to collect things in Zeeland. Lizet went to Almere last year for the beach fields. “Professional league games were held there at the time, and the volleyball federation’s boards you need for that are stored there.” Incidentally, another tradition involves picking up free benches online in the run-up to the tournament, temporarily storing them, and then transporting them to Crisis when the preparation weeks starts. These benches serve as a ‘lounge set’ for the hard workers. “You get assignments from the vice-president all week long, and these benches are very relaxed. It’s simple work, but we are a vital part of the organization. If we don’t collect nets, the tournament can’t take place.”
With just a few weeks to go before the Outside Tournament starts, master’s students Marijn Kruit and Dennis Ouwekerk still don’t have a fully worked-out plan. As MTA’s, they are responsible for the Match Terrain Activities. Their assignment is to organize fun activities on the artificial grass pitch during which the participants can relax. “No worries, we’ll make it work.”
They like to get their ideas from episodes of Takeshi’s Castle of Wipe Out, a Japanese gameshow. Spinning, sliding down and falling on soap ramps, inflatable tubs or towers, that is what Dennis and Marijn get exited about.
“We had two plans for this year. One is a bit like Mario kart, with contestants chasing each other on go-karts while shooting at balloons with longbows. The other plan was to let volleyball players play a game of paintball with water balloons on two inflatable slides,” Dennis says. “At this point, we’re ninety nine percent sure that the plan will involve air cushions. And water and foam.”
They still need to rent or buy the material for their plan (“you can always find something online,” and Marijn is an OT driver as well, so it’s easy for him to pick up something), but the fact that they haven’t done anything yet is no great cause for concern. Dennis: “We ordered one hundred and fifty empty beer crates from the OT commission that we will use as building blocks.”
(Continue reading after the video)
Love or hate
Besides beer crates, they have asked for power and water for the location with which they have a love-hate relationship. “It’s great because everyone has to walk past it since it’s located in between the game court and the campground, but it also sucks because we’re located on an artificial grass pitch and you can’t even put a single peg in the ground.” Let alone a large pole.
The best MTA ever took place in 2017. “They had bought a spinning device online that you could hang from using a surfing sail rod. The rest of your team would spin you around and you had to let go at just the right moment in order to land in a track of the soapy sail below. As far as possible. That is how you won the game.”
If you got it right (or wrong), you crashed into inflatable tubs filled with water. “Soap and wetness, as long as there is an opportunity to laugh at people, success is assured,” Dennis knows. Although the MTA edition of 2017 can’t be bettered, they will come up with something spectacular this year as well. “Something dynamic, something with water. Water is always fun, unless is comes out of a cloud.”
“In any case, it’s really nice that the volunteers get to do something physical for a change,” Marijn Kruit says, “after having spent a whole year behind their laptops.”
Where can you borrow material for a hundred and ten volleyball fields? On which field and at what time do each of the five hundred teams play their matches? How high should the nets be? How many teams have registered? Is it necessary to spend more time promoting the tournament? Does the Outside Tournament app work? Just some of the questions the match organizers need to answer. Rens van Bussel and Nina van der Maaden know how difficult that can be, and how much fun.
Dividing five hundred teams with twenty-three different levels into one hundred groups, it’s a challenge. What you need in any case, is a great deal of flexibility. So, when the first OT app (for passing on the scores and informing players about the group classification) was introduced in 2016, that fact that it didn’t function optimally was a bit of a shame. And when approximately forty percent of the participants didn’t show up that Sunday because of heavy thunderstorms, you could say it was something of a learning moment. “You want the players to have a schedule without any blank spots, and you don’t want the groups to be too small.” The current app is perfectly equipped to tackle any such problems.
On the days of the match, eight so-called match ladies (also men are conversely referred to as ‘match ladies’) take a seat in the match wagon to welcome the teams. Nina and Rens only need to be on standby this year. “And that’s a good thing because I have bar duty on Friday as well,” Nina says. Rens will be in the driver’s seat of the tap on wheels that will drive across the campground on Friday. In addition, Nina and Rens will step in as human signposts, and they will assist with the sale of the coins and with entrance armlet control as well.
In 2016, they were the OT commission’s first and second match officials. That experience has taught Rens that it’s wise to make a round of the terrain after a hectic morning during which you have to deal with the complaints of several participants. “People complained that there weren’t enough women in the mixed groups or that the other team hadn’t arrived yet, or the printer was broken. Going out and seeing people on the fields actually enjoying themselves really puts things into perspective.” Seeing hundreds of volleyballs fly over the net, that is what gives Nina a sense of euphoria.
The secret is to stay happy and keep enjoying yourself. “We can often delay things a bit when we run into problems so that we can get a handle on the situation, it allows us to come up with a good solution moments later. We tell the players that the delay gives them a chance to have breakfast, or to drink a glass of beer,” Nina says. “Another way to keep things fun and interesting is by taking up a wager with fellow commission members. In 2016, I had to tell a joke every hour over the intercom from the match wagon. Participants would tell jokes as well, and that still happens every year.”
What they are both firmly convinced of: a game manager needs to supervise everything. “So, don’t start putting out fires yourself, no matter how helpful it may seem, but delegate the hosing down to someone else. Supervising and managing, those are the two most important things.”
Panchito (Lucas van Cappellen) and Ab (Nikolai Gillissen) both have experience in managing the bar during the Harjaa party. There are three bars in the Markthal and their fellow bar manager is less experienced than they are. It makes them all the more aware of that one golden rule: ‘Every second without beer is a wasted second.’
The most important task of a bar manager is to make sure the bar is manned by enough people, and to change the 1000-liter tanks. And since every second counts during that operation, it’s kind of a stressful affair. Panchito: “First you have to turn off the valves, then you shut of the main valve, and finally you have to disconnect the empty tank’s coupling and attach the tube to the other tank as quickly as you can. That can go wrong sometimes, right?” he says as he points towards David, who was once hit by a jet of cold beer with a pressure of 3 bars.
But managing the bar is mostly fun. “For members of Harjaa, it’s just as much fun standing behind the bar as it is standing in front of it,” Ab says. “Teasing people a little, making jokes.” After the final shift, when the bar managers and security firmly ask the last guests to vacate the premises, things get fun in a different way. “Then it’s time for us to have a few beers and discuss the evening, very relaxed.” The atmosphere at the party itself is very relaxed as well, by the way. “We never had a brawl,” Panchito says.
The bars were named after three Harjaa members who sat on the first OT commission: Hulst, Bijl and Cramer. They are managed by twelve bar managers, because there are two party nights and each bar is manned by two people.
The beer faucets are open for business between eleven o’clock in the evening until one o’clock in the morning and the beer flows continuously. Some of the bar managers operating the faucets can go on non-stop, “Moffel is especially good at that.” The people behind the bar have three specialties: you’re in charge of the faucet, or you pour the beer, or you hand it out.
Just to get an impression: the visitors and participants of the Harjaa outdoor tournament consume sixteen thousand liters of beer. Approximately five thousand volleyball players attend the party with their friends and family per evening. Statistics will be kept for the first time this year.
A peak moment of each evening, sometimes more than once, comes when Narcotic starts to play. Panchito: “You know that everyone wants a new glass of beer after that song is over because they emptied their glass while they were jumping up and down. It’s the party’s apotheosis.” Next one please!
Ab will never forget the moment when another member of Harjaa asked him to step away from the bar and to come and join him on the podium for a moment. “I had a great view of the place, located at the Laplace square at the time, standing behind the members of the band. I saw five thousand (a rough estimation, remember?-ed.) smiling faces. Very cool.”