ORLANDO, Fla. -- Bigger? By far.
Better? In many ways yes, but ...
The 40th annual AAU Girls Junior National Championships in late June generally went well inside the venues at Disney and the Orange County Convention Center.
But a tournament that continually grows by leaps and bounds wasn’t without its problems, not the least of which were incredible early morning traffic delays getting to the OCCC, many parents parking as far as a few football fields away from the building and hoping their return didn’t coincide with Orlando summertime thunder storms, and, perhaps, too many courts and not enough officials up to the task.
Dr. Roger Goudy is the AAU National Volleyball Chair and the superintendent of schools in Madison, Ohio. He was a busy man during the eight-day tournament. Perhaps in a fortuitous occurrence, Goudy, too, was caught one morning in the 45-minute logjam of cars trying to get into the OCCC.
Not surprisingly, that night the AAU sent an email to participants warning of the delays and suggesting alternate routes and increased signage and personnel. But, when you consider the growth in AAU volleyball, something had to give.
“One of the jokes when I took over was if I could spell volleyball,” he said with a laugh. “I’m not a volleyball person per se, but one of my masters degrees is in sports management and my doctorate is in educational administration. . . I surround myself with quality people who know how to run activities and try to allow them to do their jobs.”
His staff in volleyball includes full-time employees Debby Batz, Anastasia Sanders, Samantha Ursch, and an executive committee. They have plenty to talk about as their tournament and overall involvement in AAU volleyball continues to grow.
“One of the things we do very well is listen to people,” Goudy said. “We might not always agree but we always listen.”
This year, Goudy said, there were 92,000 AAU-registered volleyball players. A lot of that probably has to do with the growth of the Junior Volleyball Association (JVA) but the AAU national tournament is attractive to many clubs because it’s conducted before the USA Volleyball national tournament and it’s a pay-to-play, meaning that if you register before the deadline, a team is in.
“When we moved down here we had 149 teams,” Goudy said. “This year we had 1,906 at the last count. Last year we set the Guinness World Book record for the largest event with 1,732 teams.
Which begs a number of questions.
“I would agree. And I know what the first one is, how big is too big?” said Goudy, who has led AAU volleyball for 20 years after running baseball for the organization.
“I ask that question of myself and I ask that question of the people around me every day. We don’t want to hit that year where the wheels fall off the wagon. We want to maintain a quality program, whether there’s 1,000 or 3,000 teams here.”
Louisville volleyball legend Ron Kordes, whose KIVA club has set a high standard for girls club programs, happened to walk up to greet Goudy during his interview with Volleyball magazine and said he fully understood the growth problem.
“[At the Bluegrass tournament in Louisville] we literally had kids getting out of the cars on the highway ramps and running along the traffic to get into the game so they wouldn’t be late,” Kordes said, shaking his head. “The liability was phenomenal.”
Goudy: “Just think of the impact this event is having if on a Sunday morning at 7 o’clock you have a traffic jam on I-4. ... To me it’s inexcusable to have people sitting in traffic like that.”
Goudy added that it was probably time to have a traffic engineer from Orlando be on board for the planning process for future tournaments.
“That’s what they do for a living,” Goudy said. “I don’t claim to be a traffic expert.”
Accordingly, there was no visible support from the Orlando police, somewhat alarming considering the massive economic impact of the event and the potential safety hazards. Tourism experts figure volleyball travels 3-1, so if you consider 1,900 teams and 10 members per team, that would be 57,000 people plus officials (numbering well over 400) plus support staff. What’s more, spectators paid $52 admission apiece for the four-day session.
“We have to think about creating more divisions,” Goudy suggested. “We’re looking at the format of the tournament and if we should maybe extend the length of the tournament. This year we brought the 15s to the second wave and we did that because of convention center availability.
“Already for next year we’re working with those people now and the Central Florida Sports Commission, the head of the convention and visitor’s bureau to get the space locked in farther out. Disney is helping us on that.”
Inside the venues, volleyball seemed to go on smoothly, although it was quite a walk from one end of the OCCC to the other.
“There are some things we need to tweak and one of the things, and it’s something that’s never perfect in volleyball, and that’s seeding. We recognize that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But there were some things this year we probably should have done better. And we’re gonna fix that.
“We’re going to meet in October with representatives from a lot of different organizations and invite people down here to Orlando and look at it. We want to continue to refine it. Part of the problem is when you have teams from Puerto Rico and teams that don’t play the other teams it’s not an exact science. That’s one of the reasons why on the first day we have three (teams from a pool) go up and one go down, because we want people to be able to stay in the event and be able to win this thing.”
When it was all said and done, champions were crowned and event could call itself a success, bigger than ever and very well attended by athletes and families alike.
“We’ll evaluate and make some judgments,” Goudy said. “Then again, I’m not averse to reducing the size of the tournament. We’d like to see it grow, but we want to maintain quality and we’ve said it all along: We want to have a quality event. On the other hand, I’m not going to say we’re perfect, because we certainly aren’t.”