NEW BRITAIN - Woodstock native and recent Northeastern University graduate Mike Delpapa went to visit his childhood friends Chris and Greg Meade to tell them he’d had enough.
The three friends had remained close through their college years, having grown up together in Woodstock with a friendship foundation that consisted of every backyard sport in the book, but the rat race of a full-time job wasn’t a game Delpapa was interested in playing.
“He came over the house one night and said, 'I really don't want to get a real job. I want to be an entrepreneur and make something happen,'” Chris said.
Chris, who had just graduated Quinnipiac University, felt the same way. The trio pondered ways to escape the mundane routine of working adulthood, and came up empty until the three were back at Chris and Greg’s house, mindlessly watching SportsCenter air on an endless loop on ESPN. It wasn’t even a specific highlight of the show that ignited what was to become a groundbreaking idea that would fill shelves at stores like Target and WalMart, and eventually become an object of excitement for gym students at Pulaski Middle School. It was just the sight of sport itself that lifted Chris, Greg and Mike out of what they considered to be a lifestyle they wanted no part of.
“We just thought, 'wow, a four-way volleyball net would be amazing,'” Chris said. “We did a quick Google search and nobody had come up with it. We whipped up a prototype the next morning in the backyard.”
As the SportsCenter reruns finally gave way to a new airing the next morning, the three friends and soon-to-be business partners headed to WalMart, sewed together two volleyball nets to create their first-ever prototype for Crossnet, a fusion of four square and volleyball that allows players to experience volleyball in a new way.
Since that first prototype was stitched together in 2016, Crossnet has become a hit beach game and is used in more than 2,000 classrooms across the country, including Pulaski, where physical education teacher Alyssa Serville teaches her kids the game of volleyball with a fresh new twist thanks to the locally-made product.
“I feel like it allows me to break down the sport more for students individually before we use a regulation net and set up a full game of volleyball,” Serville said. “It is also nice to have the Crossnet set up on the side so students who are not playing in a regulation game can continue to practice until it is their time to play.”
For Serville’s students, many would prefer to stay with the Crossnet, where they feel there is more opportunities to be directly in the action as opposed to being more of a spectator for an ongoing volley.
"When there's six people on one side it feels like I can never get to the ball without running into someone else or having them take it away from me,” said Pulaski eight grader Alondra Arocho. “I like using the Crossnet because I get more touches on the ball.”
The reception from Pulaski is exactly what the local creators were looking for when they decided to make Crossnet their new full-time gigs. Chris quit his corporate job at Uber and spent his savings on marketing their product. Greg became the CEO, Delpapa handled manufacturing and Chris was in charge of sales. He also helped organize Crossnet tournaments across the country, and is in the early stages of planning one for the New Britain area. He’s confident if it’s anything like the tournaments they’ve hosted recently, the Hardware City will love his Connecticut-born game.
“We had a tournament this past [month] in San Diego,” Chris said. “Someone from our email list traveled three hours just to play in it. It's really good exposure for our brand, and people love coming out for a few hours and playing.”
Crossnet has become a nationwide success for recreational use in local tournaments, but its teaching value has also helped make the product a success for younger generations trying to learn the original game.
“It's great to see the improvement that some students have made over time,” Serville said. “They were struggling with the regulation net and having so many people and space, but the Crossnet eliminates those obstacles and allows them to learn in their own space.”
The success of the product isn’t a surprise to Chris, who spent the early stages of his new job taking a Crossnet to local beaches. Maybe he didn’t anticipate seeing Crossnet highlighted on Amazon with an average review of 4.6 out of 5, but he knew the idea had to the potential to be a hit, as soon as it was brought up over another viewing of SportsCenter.
“People turned their heads and walked up to us asking what it was and how to play,” Chris remembered. “Like 20 people would line up to play. We knew we had something. It's really blown up.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org