This is the first installment of a three-part series by guest blogger, Mark Nalevanko, Director of the Carolina Region/USA Beach Volleyball.
As we just concluded another record-breaking year of junior beach volleyball in 2013, I took a few moments to reflect on where things started, where they are now and where they’re going. I grew up in the Triad and was able to participate for three years on a co-ed volleyball team, which got me hooked on the sport. Even though there were no formal opportunities to play boys’ volleyball during high school, I continued to play occasionally in the backyard and recreationally in college either on the sand courts by the dorms or through intramurals. While I didn’t consider myself a serious player, I was completely enamored by the sport.
After participating in an occasional tournament, traveling to places like Captain Bills in Wilmington or even down to Florida, I got to thinking “Why aren’t there some sand volleyball tournaments around the Raleigh area?” I saw so many people playing in grass events, and with multiple parks in the area with 4-6 courts each, it just made sense to me.
As I was doing my research on this idea, I happened to stumble across a site called AAU Beach. I read on the website about how junior beach tournaments got started in California in the 1990s. I said to myself “Wow, I wish I had this opportunity when I was growing up!” And this led to starting BOTH junior and adult sand tournaments under the Vh1vball organization in 2006.
I quickly found myself focusing on the junior side of things with the help of well-established volleyball people in NC, Mike Marks and Vaughn Hastings. The first year saw three tournaments and a clinic event. From what I could tell, it was the first large-scale effort in NC to involve juniors in the sport of beach volleyball. The very first tournament that year at Jaycee Park had 24 teams competing across the 14U-18U divisions. It was a modest but successful start.
Junior tournaments would continue to grow in leaps and bounds in subsequent years. Participation numbers would seemingly double almost every year. Events with 40-50 teams became common, then 70-80 – finally 100+ became the reality! In 2013, the four Vh1vball hosted events brought in 419 teams with the Carolina Grand Slam in May having 143, the most ever for a juniors beach event in NC. Other organizations across the state have joined in recent years to help establish the Carolina Region Jr Beach Volleyball Tour. In seven years, the sport of junior beach volleyball in NC has become a nationally recognized hotspot for junior beach volleyball participation.