Volleyball Magazine caught up with AAU Beach National Director Denny Lennon at the West Coast AAU Junior Olympic Games Invitational in Hermosa Beach. Lennon, a former WPVA (Women’s Professional Volleyball Association) stage announcer, heads the AAU beach operation along with National Volleyball Commissioner Gino Grajeda.
The West Coast Junior Olympics Games Invitational features 324 teams, from 30 states. To qualify, each team must have medaled in one of the AAU’s 165 events conducted in almost every state.
Lennon and Grajeda started the AAU in 1994. They had to put up their own poles and courts in Cabrillo beach in San Pedro.
“No one else would give us a beach, so we had to be there, and it took off from there.”, said Lennon. “Back then, I think Charlie Saikley ran one Junior tournament in Manhattan, and I think someone ran one up at the Santa Monica Pier. I think they were both CBVA. That was it. Kids really didn’t have anything for them. Now there are a lot of opportunities. Today there are over 170,000 junior volleyball athletes registered with the AAU, although I don’t know how many of those are indoor and how many are outdoor.”
Junior beach volleyball recently received a boost when it was added as a college sport.
“It has increased enrollment overall, but in particular it has created clubs that are beach specific, with high-level training and coaching. That has all really gone up. Whether it is in pursuit of a college scholarship, or it is maybe more that the sport has increased legitimacy in people’s eyes.
“Sara Hughes, for example. Sara Hughes has played in our events since she was 8. I don’t ever think she lost a tournament. She was able to play at USC and continue on internationally.”
Lennon feels strongly about the overall benefits of the sport.
“There’s a lot of kids that don’t play in college. But now they have a way to stay healthy for the rest of their life in the sport. Because it’s a great sport to know forever. And it’s a great social sport. I’m very happy about what’s going on. I’m so proud and happy about the growth of the sport.”
All 163 photos from Saturday can be found here: