Pottstown Rumble

Bill Bonney
Aaron Russell and Dainis Berzins on offense against Derick Smith and Jason Peter

Who are you playing with at The Rumble?

In the Mid-Atlantic Region, you cannot escape the call of The Pottstown Rumble. At every spring tournament players are talking strategy and “Who are you playing with at The Rumble?” is the top question. Often, any player worth his or her mettle gives a cryptic response in hopes of landing whoever in their eyes is the perfect partner.

The Rumble is the keystone to Mid-Atlantic volleyball, and tournament directors planning early spring tournaments maximize the opportunity for teams to prepare. This preparation culminates the week prior to The Rumble with a total of four tournaments in three different states named either the “Pre-Rumble” or “Rumble Warm-up.” Tournament directors have recognized that tagging The Rumble’s name to their event brings in more players looking to sharpen their tools before the big show.

After 20 years, The Rumble has become one of the largest volleyball events in country. It serves as the battle ground for players testing their skills and toughness. The event consistently draws ranked professionals trying to take the crown and $4,000 of first place prize money.

The Rumble is accurately named. Since finishing well at The Rumble gains a player great respect in the Mid-Atlantic volleyball community, everyone is out for blood. The arduous format guarantees that only the toughest prevail. Long after the volleyball community switched to rally scoring and short court, The Rumble defiantly kept to the old school rules. With the extra-long pool play format and side-out scoring, teams battle to break pool well after sundown. The competition, prize money, and grueling format make for the perfect storm of memorable battles.

Grass courts are another reason for the tournament’s hard-hitting reputation. Volleyball has been played on sand, hard court, and grass for a very long time, but the grass game remains the fastest and most powerful. Players must be able to pass huge jump serves like they do in the indoor game, and defense is more difficult because everyone can jump high and hit hard. At the same time, players must cover a larger court size to run down roll shots. Diving on grass is very hard on the body and by the end of the day many players are nursing bruises, sore joints, and bloody scrapes. The Rumble is like a blue collar version of Wimbledon.

The history of The Rumble gives some insight to the popularity and success of this beloved event. Twenty-one years ago Ken Kaas and a few of his friends wanted a local tournament so they didn’t have to drive all the way to the beach to compete. Pottstown is a blue collar town in southeastern Pennsylvania and the perfect setting for an event that celebrates a hard day’s work and getting dirty for a paycheck. Early on the event was billed as “A volleyball tournament run by the players, for the players.” This slogan is still true and might be an answer as to why so many players participate and hold a deep respect for the organizers.

This year The Rumble shattered even its own records with more than 2,100 players, 200 nets, and thousands of spectators. Memorial Park was transformed into a volleyball mecca with rows of food and clothing vendors and a beer tent sponsored by local brewing company Sly Fox. Players came in from all over the U.S. and abroad, representing more than 40 different states and a handful of different countries. The Men’s Pro division winners were Dana Camacho from Venice Beach, Calif., and Andrey Belov from St. Petersburg, Russia. The Women’s Pro winners were Svetlana Simic from Serbia and Sandra Montoya from Colombia. Alumni of The Rumble include some of the great faces in the sport such as Phil Dalhauser, who played with then partner Nick Lucena to take prize.

A note from the writer:
I’ve played The Rumble every year for about 18 years. The last time I missed playing in the Pro division was 15 years ago when my best friend asked me to be best man at his wedding (I still played co-ed on Sunday). His wife was not amused when I asked if they would consider moving the date. But I know I’m not alone in my Rumble Fever. Many players consider this weekend off limits to any other activity, and I’m sure there have been many family squabbles over the years. Someday I intend to play The Rumble with my daughter so she can experience the passion, sportsmanship, and camaraderie that I have enjoyed for so many years. I only hope my legs can hold up because at three years old she has some years to go before she can enter!

Originally published in September/October 2012

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