The JVA World Challenge last weekend in Louisville was a massive club volleyball tournament inside the Kentucky Exposition Center.
There were 864 teams playing on 111 courts, which by itself was something special. And there were more than 25,000 people descending on the Kentucky city as a result.
But it was so much more than just a volleyball tournament, from a charades-like game called like called Head’s Up! (the JVA version) involving the teams, social media contests tied into T-shirt giveaways, charity service for the teams, public-address announcers for the finals, and even men’s pro matches.
And as if that wasn’t enough, for fans of the college game, Michigan State, Ohio State, Kentucky, Illinois, Lipscomb, Murray State, Indiana, Northern Kentucky, Dayton, Tennessee, Xavier, Wright State, Western Kentucky, and Louisville scrimmaged this past Saturday at the KIVA facility.
“Our philosophy is anyone can slap down some courts, bring in some officials, collect a lot of money and run a tournament and go home,” said JVA executive director Jenny Hahn. “And the competition is great. The kids need it, they want it and it gives opportunities to get recruited.
“But after my 30-plus years of coaching, whenever I run into former athletes, they never talk about the wins and the losses. They talk about the goofy stuff that they did after the tournament or during the tournament or while they were waiting for a match to play.”
So annually she turns loose what she calls “a really young and energetic staff,” to make memories.
This was the 10th JVA World Challenge for an organization borne from clubs wanting more options than USA Volleyball was offering.
A driving force at the time was KIVA director Ron Kordes, whose Louisville club is one of the biggest and best in the nation.
“We started this thing to be an advocate for club directors and do some of the things we wanted to do and not be dictated to so much,” Kordes said. “The JVA’s done a great job with this event, it’s a great atmosphere for kids in general.”
“Some of them ran up to me and said they had to have their picture taken with a hot coach,” the 71-year-old Kordes said. “They picked me and I thought “Oh, my gosh.’ Must have been a team from the blind school.”
In all seriousness, though, he’s super pleased with what this tournament has become.
“You put in all these courts and all these teams and it’s what junior volleyball is doing,” Kordes said. “We’re so blessed the way this sport has just taken off. It seems like every event you go to is filling up a convention center. It’s great to see.”
He admitted that when the JVA got going, he never envisioned this kind of growth.
“No,” Kordes said. “We were talking the other day, and this goes back well before JVA, about when you’d play and then have to go to another gym for the playoffs and that kind of thing.
“No, we never envisioned it being like this, I don’t think. Or doing it this quick. But I think it says a lot about the groups that got this thing going and junior volleyball is on the rise, there’s no question.”
Another component of the JVA World Challenge is educating parents.
“We started bringing in someone to talk about recruiting and how they can help their kids,” Hahn said. “The last couple of years we brought in Greg Dale (professor of sport psychology and sport ethics at Duke University) who talked about how to let your kids fail and solve problems on their own.
“Standing room only.”
One beneficiary from having such a tournament in her city is Louisville coach Dani Busboom Kelly, although things are a bit different than in the past. That’s because new NCAA recruiting rules mean the school can’t entertain just anyone. Before this, anyone could make a visit and home-team school would be crazy not to show them around.
“The night before JVA was somewhat of a madhouse but it’s still an advantage just to have kids come through and see your campus and meet your coaches,” Kelly said.
“I think it’s great exposure for the city and luckily the university is just a couple of miles from the expo center, so a lot of parents and players still spend time on campus and check it out.”
Having the tournament at home was not lost on Anna DeBeer, who plays high school for Ron Kordes at Assumption, for Asics KIVA 17 Red –which won 17s open — coached by Anne Kordes, Ron’s daughter, and is a Louisville commit.
“You don’t want to let anyone beat you in your hometown,” DeBeer said with a smile. “You don’t have to worry about hotels and all that, you just get to come in and play.”
Steve Bailey is the director of events for the JVA.
“It’s a well-oiled machine once it gets going,” Bailey said.
He said real preparation begins about seven months out and then things really crank up in the weeks before.
“It’s keeping us busy,” he quipped.
The staff took Monday and Tuesday off, but planned a debrief before the week ended.
“Figure out what went well and what we can improve on and then start planning for next year,” Bailey said.
Hahn was ecstatic as the tournament wound down.
“It’s organized chaos for sure,” Hahn said. “I called two emergency staff meetings the week before just to make sure they knew who was covering what. With so many additional activities going on besides the competition I just wanted to make sure nothing fell through the cracks.”
As it turned out, little did. They even finished up a bit early on Sunday, always a welcome surprise to a tournament director.
Click here for complete 2019 JVA World Challenge results.