BR Volleys defending their championship title this season has a lot to do with the heart of the team, with Sergej Grankin and Ben Patch. They are the star players - they were, both are leaving the club. Patch takes a break, as the dazzling American explains in a true love letter.
Benjamin Patch will remain with the fans of the German volleyball champion BR Volleys until the end of the year - on the living room wall at home. With pictures of and with him, in the annual calendar of the Berlin club. Patch photographed his teammates, far away from the orange-colored surface of the pitch in the Max-Schmeling-Halle. The photos are an expression of the artistic talent of the 27-year-old. One of many. Some may even have a piece of Patch pottery art at home. Another expression of his passion.
On the other hand, he turned his back on his sporting passion, volleyball. The new season that will start in October, it will take place without a patch. "I have decided to take a break from volleyball," writes the American in a letter published by the Volleys. The fans, but above all the team, of course, will miss him. After the departure of Sergej Grankin, the volleys lose the second part of their well-rehearsed axis, their heart.
The captain returns to his Russian homeland - probably not entirely voluntarily. "The decision was really very difficult for him, but the political and family circumstances make it difficult to continue working abroad," said managing director Kaweh Niroomand about the 37-year-old Olympic champion. And now the second blow. "It's a situation that we didn't expect at the beginning of the year. Both of them still had contracts for the next season and we made firm plans with them," said Niroomand. "Their motives are completely different and yet understandable. We have tried everything with Ben, but we also accept his decision."
It's a decision Patch obviously didn't make lightly. The moving lines he wrote already prove that. About his love for sport, for the club, for Berlin. "I don't know if it's over forever but it's a career that needs a break because I feel like I've lost a bit of the joy of volleyball and the purity of the sport that I love so much have", Patch justifies his way. "I don't see anything wrong with taking a new direction. I want to live this life of discovery, of success, of failure. You can be sure: I'm scared of this break. It's hard to give up everything, or at least most of it, what you know. But I want to dream and do many things."
He has already done a lot so far, Patch is the most remarkable professional in the Bundesliga. His height of 2.03 meters is not particularly noticeable in volleyball, his tattoos are, his hair, which is occasionally dyed blond, and his fingernails are painted. Athletic his incredible jumping ability, which makes him one of the best diagonal attackers. He allegedly reaches 3.80 meters with his fingertips when he seems to remain in the air as a "jumping miracle". He was the top scorer in the playoffs last season.
He designs fashion, he studied design and ceramics in addition to sports, he has a studio where he also offers pottery courses. He's a gifted dancer and he takes photos, such as his teammates for the Volleys annual calendar. Athletes could be much more "than just a person in a jersey," he said upon its release. And that's where his passion comes through: "When I look at the photos I took of my team, I see them as I really see them. Their personalities, their smiles and the wrinkles around their eyes. Theirs beauty and goodness." The proceeds from the calendar go to the Berliner Stadtmission, an institution for needy and homeless people. Social commitment is also important to Patch. When war broke out in Ukraine, he helped at Berlin's main train station. Together with teammate Cody Kessel, he also organized accommodation for refugees and drove people to their sleeping places.
All of this is part of the facets of the 27-year-old, including the fact that he is queer. It's just part of his personality, that's how Patch sees it. The sports world, however, lacks openly queer men, when he spoke to the "Tagesspiegel" about it in October 2020, an echo followed that was incomprehensible to him, he said to RBB in July 2021: "The fact that I said that at the time was as normal to me as if I were talking about my favorite chewing gum."
He's open, he's a free spirit, a guy who lives out his passions, who just wants to be himself. And who is used to attracting attention. As an adopted child, he grew up with white parents in the Mormon-influenced US state of Utah - with twelve siblings, strictly according to Mormon beliefs. When he was three years old, the family moved to the island nation of Tonga for six years before returning to the United States. He was bullied at school when he was 12 because he was a fan of volleyball, which is not a sport for boys. Because there is no team for men, he initially plays in a girls team. "The players were incredible and I wanted to be like them," he told the "Tagesspiegel". He does his thing in sport and privately, because he is taught to marry a woman as soon as he comes of age, but he not only goes out with women, but also with men. He doesn't let himself be stopped, not by private life and not by sport, becomes a professional, switches to the Italian league, where he doesn't feel free in conservative southern Italy, and finally to Berlin in 2018.
A stroke of luck, for the club and for Patch. Together they win three championship titles and also get the cup in 2020. The fact that he is the way he is also has to do with the club and the city. "When I first came to Berlin, I was a sad version of myself, it was a tough time," he told RBB. And in his letter he now writes: "But when I came to Berlin, I felt accepted and loved by the management, the fans, the reporters, who have now become my friends. (...) When I needed support or was sad , there was always someone from BR Volleys there, be it fans, management or teammates." His letter, it's also a love letter.
"I don't want to play volleyball anywhere else, just BR Volleys or not at all," said Patch. He proved that when he extended his contract in Berlin despite offers from successful clubs abroad. But right now he doesn't want to play. In addition to all his activities, he has also set up an interior design and architecture studio together with others, a project in which he now wants to invest "all his time and energy", he writes. He wants to stay in Berlin, the city that welcomed him as he is. "If Germany wants me," said Patch, because as an American he needs a residence permit.
The security, he loses it with his break in the volleys. "Now I'm totally scared of what's coming next and I think that's normal for athletes too because we usually only do one thing." At the age of 27 he left his comfort zone, but only as a player. He will "always do everything I can to be a part of this club and to help socially, economically, politically and in every other way possible. I plan to stay as an ambassador, as a friend, as part of this family." And maybe he will return again, his contract, which originally ran until 2024, will only be suspended. It is clear that they would be happy to take him on again. It has made it into the living room of many fans.