Todd Gawronski – who almost single-handedly transformed Bradford Beach from a desolate, dirty and dangerous place into the sparkling safe location it is now – is spreading his wings to six other Milwaukee County parks, with more to come.
Gawronski, 44 and a former semi-pro volleyball player, is about to announce the expansion of beach volleyball to six parks: Grant, South Shore, Whitnall, McCarty, Greenfield and Hoyt.
"I started this 14 years ago when I moved back from New York and went down to Bradford Beach," Gawronski said. "It was terrible. Filthy. No food service. No place to go to the bathroom. An impression of being dangerous. I wanted to have place where the key words were ‘safe’ and ‘clean’."
He now runs a league that employs 12 people on a seasonal basis and has 530 teams from the Milwaukee area. They are in the middle of their playoff season, and some of the teams will win trips to national championships. Plans for 2015 include expanding to multiple locations and adding staff to accommodate over 700 teams.
It’s an amazing achievement, especially when you consider that the entire thing is done without any tax dollars. In fact, the county gets 10 percent of the revenue off the gross. He gets his funding from a variety of sponsors and enrollment fees from players and teams.
"Outside of New York and Chicago, I am pretty sure we are the largest beach volleyball league in the country," Gawronski said.
When Gawronski started, he funded the activities out of his own pocket. He’s continued to chip in time, effort, expertise and money. He says that he is finally able to begin to pay himself back for all the personal money he’s spent, although this is no get-rich deal. He also works as the account executive in charge of business development for Arandell Corp, a printer of catalogs and direct mail house.
The teams in his league range from the familiar and high-level two-person teams to six on a side.
"We’ve been looking to expand around the county once we had Bradford Beach running smoothly," Gawronski said. "These six parks have volleyball courts that are sub-standard. We want to work with Milwaukee County Parks to take inactive spaces and make them active spaces. We want to fix them up and expand the leagues there. If there are no food service facilities there, we would work with Milwaukee County Parks to arrange to have food trucks provide service."
Gawronski has a real focus on recreation for everybody, but a special place for young people to get involved in both the recreational and competitive leagues.
"I was at a gathering this past weekend, and two young girls there said they wanted to grow up to be Kerri Walsh," he said, referring to the multiple Olympic gold medal winner in beach volleyball. "That was very exciting to hear."
Just about as exciting as the example Gawronski sets by seeing something that’s a problem and taking the bit between his teeth to solve the problem without asking for any government tax dollars, just a little bit of cooperation.
For those who remember the lakefront beach 14 years ago, this is nothing less than a miracle on sand.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
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