Amateur volleyball tourneys take hits, but Waupaca, Motherlode, AVP America Open still on

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Amateur volleyball tournaments 6/30/2020-Waupaca Boatride volleyball
Jasmin Cull leaps to serve at the Waupaca Boatride volleyball tournament/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

The coronavirus has taken a virtual wrecking ball to the plans of volleyball players around the world and the pandemic has destroyed 2020 for the majority of the most popular amateur events in the country, including Seaside, the Pottstown Rumble, the Charlie Saikley 6-man, Fudpuckers, the Mexico Classic, and Rocky Point. 

And those cancelations are tough As Funkalicious director Shawn McConnell said, “You’re canceling Christmas for these people that go to this thing every year. There’s sort of a communal sense of defeat, it’s like the Grinch came to Whoville.”

As June ends, volleyball tournaments are in a state of flux. Fortunately, the volley-calendar isn’t entirely blank, as a few events remain scheduled: the Waupaca Boatride, the Motherlode, the AVP America Championships and the fall Fudpucker’s and Rocky Point.

We spoke with the directors and organizers of both canceled and ongoing events to discuss the COVID-19 impact and what it means for their event.

Some states — notably Florida, Texas, and Alabama — are consistently running tournaments. Others are beginning to open, but most are still closed. 

“One state that is really held up right now is New York. And not just specifically New York City, the whole state. Volleyball-wise, it’s taking a bit hit this year,” said AVP America co-director Carly Gant, who runs AVP America with her husband Wayne.

“Rhode Island is also holding off, we have a lot of AVP America members that play. They’re number three or four of the organizations in AVP America.“

Jeff Conover, the AVP’s senior director of programming and, a former AVP competitor and tournament director, also notes that California has yet to open.

“The other major area that is still stagnant are the beaches of California. We are extremely eager to collaborate with our new partner in CBVA,” Conover said. “We had some big plans in place to showcase both marquee brands and we are still hopeful to get some late-season opportunities. 

“However, if not this season, we have no doubt the appetite for volleyball in California will be at an all-time high for 2021.” 

AVPAmerica has a unique national perspective, coordinating members and tournament directors across the nation.

“Typically our peak in membership registration is between March and June, so obviously numbers are a bit lower than years past during this time frame,” Conover said, “but we fully expect to hit a more consistent increase in the coming months now that areas are opening up.”

Gant said the appetite for volleyball is enhanced rather than diminished all over the country.

“The amateur divisions in this year’s tournaments are selling out,” Gant said. “As soon as they open registration. People are travelling for it. They can’t wait to play.”

What’s left, In chronological order:

amateur volleyball tournaments 6/30/2020-Fudpucker's
Players and tourists gather around center court for the women’s final at Fuds.

Fudpucker’s: Fort Walton Beach, Fla., April 22-26 and October 14-18
Mike Minich of Emerald Coast Volleyball, the hosts of the popular Fud’s events, canceled their spring event on March 18. 

“We already had 200 teams signed up for the main tournament,” Minich said. “It was day to day. I certainly didn’t want to be responsible for anyone getting sick. About a day before I had decided to cancel the tournament on my own, the county closed the beach and canceled all permits.”

Fud’s was canceled once before, when Hurricane Ivan hit in fall of 2004,

“Hurricane Ivan hit our town the week before our tournament. There was a foot of sand in the lobby, and both of their swimming pools were full of sand,” Minich said. “I had already purchased a thousand t-shirts.”

Minich’s Fud’s fall tournament set for October 14-18 is still a go. 

“I’m seeing sporting events happening all around me, but the cases are back up again. We’re still planning on having it, we’re still going forward with planning, we’ll open up registration sometime in August. It’s kind of a scary time, you just don’t know.”

Minich is considering a variety of precautionary measures. The biggest concern is the parties, where DJ Roueche keeps things going.

“We can add a bunch of hand sanitizers, we can space out the courts, we can limit teams, we can space out the tournament over a longer period of time, but a large part of our event is the parties. There’s no way that you can spread the parties out. You’ve got a thousand people out there and the place is packed. 

“There are a lot of things that we’re looking at, but we’re still in the planning stage. We’ll how it goes in the next month. As far as I’m concerned, we’re still in the infancy of this, we’re still learning about the virus in the third month. We’ll see. We definitely have lots of different plans. We hope it happens.”

Funkalicious Rocky Point, Mexico, April 4 (canceled) and November 7
The Funkalicious Rocky Point spring event would have been the 23rd in a row.

Held at Las Palomas in Puerto Penasco, Mexico, Funkalicious took a significant financial hit, as the two events represent approximately 25% of their income, said tournament director Shawn McConnell.

“When the Mexican government wasn’t handing out permits, that sealed the deal. But leading up to that, we went through various stages of apprehension,” McConnell said. “First we were bound and determined to do it as we were all watching this thing develop, and as the seriousness came more into focus, we had ethical doubts. ‘Is this the right thing?’ 

“Now, looking back, it’s crystal clear. Most people were begging us not to cancel, but within a three-day period the border had issues, and the hotel became a concern, it correlated with our own concerns. It wasn’t something that we could do.”

McConnell is continuing to monitor the data, hoping for favorable conditions in November. 

“Everything is in such a state of flux, it’s so nebulous,” he admitted. “We’re going to base the decision upon number one, safety. What state is the COVID phenomenon at. Number two is simply the Mexican government, who they will allow, and how difficult it will be to cross the border and have access to the resort.

Pottstown Rumble, Pennsylvania: June 26-28 (canceled)
We spoke with assistant tournament director Seth Kaas this past Saturday, which would have been the second day of the 29th Rumble. Seth’s father Ken started the tournament in 1991 and it has grown into the largest outdoor event on the East Coast, with more than 4,000 players and nearly 2,000 teams competing in the juniors, doubles and triples events.

The event was canceled once before due to floods in 2003. 

“It was certainly a tough decision, there were passionate opinions on both sides,” Seth said. “We were preparing contingency plans, which involved a much smaller, more muted Rumble. We wouldn’t have had a beer tent, reduced food vendors, no bleachers on center court.”

Montgomery County has been slow to reopen, finally reaching the green reopening phase Friday, which still restricts public gatherings, he added. “It became a logistical nightmare, and it was just better to hold off. Ken was speaking with the county commissioner, and the department of public health, and it just wasn’t feasible. 

“We did a player poll on our Facebook page, and there were split results: 66% said they would come, and 34% said they would stay home.”

The Rumble is run by a group of about 60 passionate volunteers.

“I think there’s a general sadness because we know what it means to the players. And we know what it means to the volleyball community. There’s a sentiment that if you only play one event a year, you’re going to play the Rumble, because it’s one big family reunion. All your volleyball friends, past and present, are going to be there, you’re going to meet new friends while you’re there, it’s the volleyball event of the year on the East Coast. I think Kenny felt a personal responsibility to try and make it happen because he was letting thousands of Rumblers down. He was really torn about it, he was quite upset.”

Financially, it’s not a loss because the event is run largely on a non-profit basis, Seth said, but now the board has a year to work on the 2021 Rumble.

“We plan to make the 2021 Rumble the biggest and best yet. We’re going to make next year’s even bigger and better, so hopefully Rumblers have something to look forward to.” 

Amateur volleyball tourneys 6/30/2020-Mexico volleyball Classic

Mexico Volleyball Classic: June 27-28 (canceled)
The Mexico Volleyball Classic, perhaps better known by its long-term association with Estero Beach, is a doubles draw tournament. We spoke with tournament director Danny Neiman last Friday, normally the day before the event begins. The annual volleyball pilgrimage to Mexico began in 1974 and has run every year except 2009 (canceled due to cartel violence issues). The weighted draw tournament is held at the local Papas and Beer watering hole at Rosarito Beach, Mexico.

“We waited as long as we could to figure it out,” Neiman said. “We hadn’t paid for a lot of up-front costs, so other than the annual costs of running the website and database, it wasn’t a huge loss. The biggest loss was that we weren’t hanging out in Mexico today, and we don’t get to hang out there all weekend, and have a great time, the weather looks like it will be a beautiful weekend.

“We’ll come back from it. Our following is very loyal, rain or shine they’ll be back next year, assuming that we’re able to go next year. I think that most tournaments will come back stronger than last year because people will be itching to play.”

With the border, Papas and Beer, Rosarito Beach and the Oceana Tower hotel closed, the decision was easy, Neiman said.

“We wanted to give everyone a months’ notice, so Memorial Day weekend was our decision point. The border was and is still relatively closed, Papas and Beer is still closed, and they’ve canceled all their events through July.

“And when we talked to everyone, the players, the net crew, ‘Did any of us really feel safe going?’ and being in Mexico, or just at a volleyball tournament, the answer was basically 100% no. We made the decision, but essentially the decision has been made for us with everything being closed.”

The Waupaca Boatride, Wisconsin: July 9-12, Still on!
The Waupaca Boatride is heading into it’s 37th year, and features both grass and sand competition. The tournament has never been canceled, but playoffs were cut short one year due to weather. The event is at Brighton Acres, which is preparing for its eighth Boatride.

We spoke with founder and event director Tom Galecke three days after a five-hour meeting with the sheriff and health department to hash out all of the preventive details. Galecke acknowledges that there will be a lot of changes.

“It’ll be a lot different than it ever was. It’s the first time that we’ve ever had to cap the number of teams in divisions, which is far more painful than I ever thought it was going to be. 

It’s difficult to turn down teams that have played the Boatride for years, said Galecke.

“One of the things that I took pride in was that we could just keep taking teams, anybody that wanted to play could play. This year we are only going to be able to accommodate 50% of the teams that played last year.

It’s especially difficult this year, as Galecke estimates that the tournament would have exceeded 2,000 teams this year. The tournament is run as a non-profit, donating to high school volleyball and clubs from Appleton to Oshkosh.

“That’s a tough one, because there are so many teams that played for so many years, and now to tell them that they can’t play because we are eliminating every other row of courts according to our guidelines.”

Previously, participants would camp on an adjacent field, spending the entire weekend on site. The biggest change Galecke made this year is eliminating camping.

“Eliminating camping will be a new experience. We’re basically trying to discourage social gathering, which is a large part of what the Boatride has been. We’re not going to have the bands at night, we’re closing the inside bars, everything will be outside.

“We’re getting rid of the commemorative beer steins and the cups. Instead, we’re handing out bottles of hand sanitizer with our logo on it, that’s a new tweak for next year. We won’t have tables out for lounging around and eating, we’re hoping they’ll take the food back to their courts.”

Traditionally the finals are very well attended, but Galecke and the Boatride have taken a number of steps to reduce the crowd.

“I think our center court crowd will be down. First, we only have half the teams. Second, we don’t have any camping, people usually stay on site and enjoy a beverage or two or three. Third, we’re also live streaming the finals, so we hope people will watch the stream. Fourth, we won’t have the grandstands and championship court in the usual place by the bar, we’re going to have it outside in the field so it give us more space for spectators. Fifth, we’ll also project the match onto the side of the barn, so it will be like a large outdoor movie theater. I think we’ll be OK.”

Having addressed most of the health department’s concerns, Galecke’s biggest worry is a coronavirus spike.

“You worry about a huge flareup in the area, so far we’ve been very good. Other than that, all of our main concerns we’ve been dealing with for months. 

“This is by far the most difficult year to plan. Things you might not expect, for example we had to get a different insurance policy. As long as we keep our open line with the health department we’ll be fine.”

The feedback from the tournament changes in the volleyball community thus far has been very understanding and positive.

“Volleyball players are just outstanding, they’re almost like family. They care about other events, they care about other players, that’s always been touching about the whole thing.

“Talking to the health department, they said that of any event in Oshkosh, our event is the one that could pull this off and set the tone for the other ones going forward. 

“Because one, we’re spread out over 40 acres, and two, the things we put into place, like getting rid of checkin, everyone will be able to go directly to their court. We’ll make it work. It’s a community project.”

Amateur volleyball tournaments 6/30/2020-Charlie Saikley 6man
Casey Patterson puts up a block against a player from Simmzy’s.

Charlie Saikley 6-Man tournament, Manhattan Beach: July 31-August 1 (canceled)
The Charlie Saikley 6-Man, started in 1962, was canceled for the first time. 

Charlie’s son Jay has been running the tournament since his father’s passing in 2005. The tournament is well-known for the impressive collection of volleyball talent as well as the colorful costumes.

“It’s really disappointing,” Saikley said, who grew up helping his dad run the 6-man. “It’s the first time I’m not lugging around equipment in as long as I remember.”

The tournament had a significant scare in 2012, when irate residents complained about the tens of thousands of partiers attending the tournament, nearly eliminating the tournament. The tournament was moved to Tuesday-Wednesday as a compromise and has since gradually migrated to Friday-Saturday.

Saikley would like to run the 58th 6-man tournament in the fall and has the support of some of the Manhattan Beach City Council members, providing that the LA County requirements are met.

Saikley also operates the popular CBVA Manhattan Beach tournaments. He is hoping to resume them in August.

“I just found out that we’ve lost all volleyball tournaments in July. We’re hoping that will change soon and things will open up.”

amateur volleyball tournaments 6/30/2020-Seaside volleyball tournament
Noah Cohen spikes as Moses and Elijah Timofeyev defend at the 36th annual Seaside tournament/Stephen Burns, Pacific Northwest Photography

Seaside, Oregon: August 6-9, canceled
The Seaside volleyball tournament was canceled for the first time since it started in 1982. The tournament is the largest beach volleyball tournament in the U.S., featuring 185 courts and 66 different divisions. It’s safe to say that if you can’t find a division to play in, it probably doesn’t exist. Last year’s participants ranged in age from 10-72, said Seaside Chamber of Commerce tournament director Brian Owen.

“The decision to cancel was unfortunately made for us. Our event is held at an Oregon State Park, and the permit was not issued,” Owen said.

Up until that point, Seaside was evaluating several alternative options for safe play, Owen said. 

“The final plan was to do a two-weekend event, one focusing on the adults, and the second on youth. That way we were able to minimize the number of participants but could still utilize the same infrastructure so we wouldn’t have to build the event twice.

“It would have allowed us to build a lot more space in between courts. We also looked at taking away center court, so there wasn’t a location for a large gathering. We also looked at positioning center court differently so that the berms were more spread out so people could more safely distance.”

The tournament generates significant revenue as many of the players come from Washington and California.

“That true economic impact will be felt over the next year here. A lot of the hotels have been able to rebook those rooms, so they won’t lose considerably, but about 30-40% of the bookings that weekend are attributed to the tournament.”

But the impact goes beyond just the economic for Owen, who has worked the tournament for eight years. The Chamber of Commerce has laid off its other employees due to the pandemic.

“I personally just miss this. It’s one of the most gratifying pieces of my job. The volleyball fan is truly just a step above everybody else in enthusiasm about the game, respect for others, I love it and have gotten to know and follow some of the pro players.

Amateur volleyball 6/30/2020-The Motherlode
The Motherlode Classic/Bob Blackburn photography

The Motherlode, Colorado: September 2-7: Still on!
The 48th annual Motherlode in Aspen is still on for Labor Day weekend. The Motherlode had a management change in 2019, with Claudio Borgiotti handling the all-important permitting process with the city and county. Borgiotti reports that the planning is “full steam ahead.”

“It’s a fluid situation. Our permit is based on the City of Aspen. The City of Aspen is very positive and encouraging, and we are progressing through the process, which is a long, drawn out thing that lasts months and months. At the end of the day, it all gets done about the beginning of August.

“I’ve worked with them for three to four years, and in conversations with the city planning department, they’ve said, ‘Hey, you guys should be planning full steam ahead.’”

“Our challenge is not so much the city, but the county health department, and that’s where our risk lies in event preparation.”

The Motherlode’s advantage is that it is a late-season event, hopefully allowing the pandemic to peter out by then, Borgiotti said.

“The challenge for us is that we believe that by August, we should have entered the third phase of reopening, any restrictions will go away, and we will be fully able to run our usual event, in fact, perhaps a better event, since we believe that there is pent-up demand for volleyball out there.”

“For us, it’s a great opportunity, but on the other hand, if we do not progress, we could be inhibited not so much from a competitor perspective, but from a spectator perspective. We believe that if we have well-defined and prescribed approach to social distancing and minimizing group size, we should be able to do anything we want.”

The Motherlode typically uses four separate sites, lending itself to social distancing well. The tournament is spread throughout Aspen, at the Koch Lumber courts, the Chart House courts, Rio Grande fields and at Wagner Park.

“We think that there will be significant pent-up demand, that we will not only draw our regular field, but also pick up some people that couldn’t play events that were canceled for whatever reason, to come try what we believe is a truly spectacular event in a spectacular setting with not only amazing volleyball, but amazing nightlife and making lifelong acquaintances and friends.

“At this point we’re full steam ahead, and at the end of the day, all of our lodging partners include 100% refundability.” 

Amateur volleyball tourneys 6/30/2020-AVP America

AVP America Open Beach Nationals, Florida: Oct 23-25, Still on!
The AVP America Open Nationals return to Clearwater Beach after being at Huntington Beach in 2019. The tournament has been held at Clearwater in seven of its eight years, partnering with the Sheraton Sand Key Resort this year. The three-day event includes clinics with AVP Pros and Men’s, Women’s and Coed Open, AA, A and B divisions.

AVP America is the largest grass-roots outdoor events organization in the country, with its nationwide events feeding into the national championship.

Co-tournament director Carly Gant has been working through the permitting process. To assure player safety, they had added numerous refinements, including contactless checkin, sanitizing ball stations, hand sanitizing stations, and a small socially-distanced stadium.

One advantage of the Clearwater site is that it has a large capacity of 70 courts, allowing more court spacing if required. Gant has found that the communication lines between the city and county authorities have been helpful and facilitating.

“Permitting has been a fairly easy task for far, it’s just constant contact and communication with the city and the hotel venue that we’re working with. Things just change so rapidly, and I feel like October is so far out to even know what that will look like. We’re still chugging along trying to make the event great.

“It’s an event for the adult amateur volleyball player. It’s essentially a party, it’s an end-of-the-year, get your last points in and get warm in October event. We want to have a major event for that player as well.”

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