If we had an award for the beach volleyball fans of the year, Mike and Lesa Perry would be at the top of the list.
Mike, 53, and Lesa, 55, volunteered at all eight AVP events in 2018, volunteering on every day of every tournament, from first serve to last serve.
“They’re awesome,” Phil Dalhausser said. “They’re at every single tournament for the past who-knows-how-many years, and I think it’s really cool that they love the sport, they love being out here, volunteering their time, and we appreciate every second that they give to us.
“They’re just awesome.”
The Perrys live in San Diego’s Pacific Beach, about two hours — traffic permitting — from the Huntington, Hermosa, and Manhattan Beach sites. They have two sons, Keith, 33, and Tommy, 30.
Mike was a project engineering manager for Goodrich Aerostructures, working on the Aerobus A350 airplane, retiring in 2016. Lesa, a former aide at a pediatric office, retired in 2008.
Two years ago Mike un-retired to take a part-time job at Delta Airlines as a ramp agent. He works a few days a week, which allows him to fly on standby on Delta anywhere in the world for free. He also currently has a schedule that allows him all of the weekends off, giving him the freedom to travel to AVP events.
We sat down with the Perrys earlier this year.
VBM: What made you decide to volunteer at every AVP event this year?
Mike: It’s something I’ve wanted to do almost since the year I started. After we got hooked, and I got hooked very quickly, I told her it was a goal to do every event in one year. I didn’t realize that it would take so long, he said with a laugh, but we finally did it. It’s just because we love the sport so much, and we’re able to travel, and see them in all of the different locations.
It’s so much fun for us, but that was the goal, and we finally did it after 13 years.
VBM: How did you get started volunteering?
Mike: I was working at GE aircraft engines, from 1989 to 2008, when I lived in Cincinnati. GE was a corporate sponsor of the AVP when they came to Cincinnati.
We had a community service fund, where you could volunteer and do all kinds of different things, I remember going to inner city schools and fixing classrooms, or going to parks and building recreational facilities for kids, and a friend asked me in 2006 if I wanted to volunteer with him at a volleyball tournament. GE was a corporate sponsor of the AVP when they came to Cincinnati. I asked him what it was about, and he said, ‘Oh, it’s fun, you go on the court and you hose off the players and dry them off with towels when they come off the sand.’ So I said, “That’s all I need to hear, what time do I start?”
We actually got paid for doing it, because it was during work hours, it was from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. at night because of the lights at Cincinnati tennis stadium, but my real job was being an usher in the stadium showing people find their assigned seats. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to hose down the girls and the players.
I didn’t know anything about the actual sport. Who the players were, what was going on, what the tournament was, nothing.
But I got interested really quickly. Watching them play was ridiculous. Because I didn’t realize at the time that I was watching the best players in the world. Phil and Todd were playing at the tournament, they won. Misty and Kerri were playing at the tournament, they won. Back then, they won all of the tournaments.
And then, I went on the website, and found out that you cold volunteer at all of the different tournaments and my mind just exploded.
And then we got to realize what a family this sport was, the players, the refs, the media, the fans, we fell in love with them.
VBM: How many tournaments did you volunteer at every year?
Mike: At first, we were doing four or five a year when we were working in Cincinnati. In March of 2008, we moved out to San Diego when I got a job with Goodrich Aerostructures as project engineering manager. We did all of the California tournaments, but still went back to Cincinnati, Belmar (N.J.), and Chicago, so we were usually doing eight or nine a year.
I have to say something about Donald and Stephanie (Sun, the AVP owners), they took over, and what they’re doing is fantastic for the sport the last five years. Donald is really building the sport with AVPFirst, it’s fantastic to see that the crowds are getting bigger at all of the locations, Donald has revitalized the sport so much, and we appreciate what he’s done. It’s great to see it growing again like this, because we do feel like we’re a part of the family.
VBM: In 13 years of volunteering, what are your favorite player interaction stories?
Mike: It’s hard, because there’s a few, but the favorite one has to be the story behind Lesa’s hat, which says, “To my lotion girl.”
This was Long Beach a few years ago, and we were in the stadium, and Jake (Gibb) and Sean (Rosenthal) were playing. We didn’t know about him (Jake) having skin cancer at the time.
Lesa: He was putting on lotion, and he said to me, “Do you mind getting my back?” and I said, “Oh, no problem.” So I’m putting lotion on his back, and all of a sudden, Mike walks up.
Mike: I was on the other side of the court, and I looked over, and I see Lesa lotioning up Jake’s back. And she was getting into it. Really into it.
Lesa, with an embarrassed laugh: Oh, I was not. I was just making sure that he was fully covered.
Mike: And I thought, “I’m going to have some fun with this.” So I came over with the most furious face and voice I could muster, as serious as I could be, and I walked up to Jake, he was sitting there with his head down, and I said, “What the hell is going on over here?” in my most upset voice. And he looked up at me, and he looked so afraid, this giant guy, looking up at me, this 5-foot-4 guy, and I start cracking up, and he starts cracking up, and Lesa’s like, “What me? I’m not doing anything.” And that was the beginning of lotion girl.
At the beginning of every tournament, I would joke with Jake, “Lesa’s ready to lotion you up.” And then he wrote that on her hat this tournament. So that’s our running joke. His face was priceless, like he didn’t know that it was a joke. I was not upset, he thought that I was really upset. Lesa said, “He said, she’s just getting my back.”
VBM: Any other stories?
Mike: The Lindquist sisters got me in trouble. It was our second tournament, we went to New Jersey, and Katie liked a ball. I think it was the number three ball that we were playing with.
Every time she would serve, and she would get a point, she would ask me to get the number three ball. I was throwing her the ball that she wanted, from wherever it was, even if it was on the opposite end of the court. She was like, “I want that ball.” So I was throwing it over the net, and the other team, I can’t remember who they were, but they were really mad.
They were really getting mad that I was doing this, and the referee, half laughing, half serious, said, “You can’t do that any more.” Katie was yelling at me from across the court, so it’s not like it was a secret. After that game, she said, ‘We want you and your wife to follow us on tour, and be our professional shaggers.’ And I said, “Oh, very funny, very funny. We’ll see what we can do.”
Oh, and one more story, I can’t forget about Phil (Dalhausser): I think it was at Cincinnati, the tournament right after Rio, it was right after a match of his, and he said, “Mike, don’t go anywhere, I’ve got something for you.” So he ran across the court, went through his bag, and he pulls out his Under Armour jersey that he wore during the Olympics, and he gave it to me. I said, “Phil, that’s amazing, I don’t know what to say,” and Nick said, “Yeah, and that’s the nice one.” Then I said, “If you want to say, to Mike, the best ball shagger ever, you could do that.” So on the shirt, he signs, “To the best ball shagger ever, thanks, Phil.” That’s one of my favorite stories too. We keep it in our volleyball room at home in San Diego.
VBM: The two of you watch a lot of professional beach volleyball, you must have favorites, who are they?
Mike: At the very beginning, Kerri and Misty were our favorites. They were awesome. However, when we met the Lindquist sisters, then they were kind of our favorite team, we got to meet their family and friends. But then EY was playing with Nicole Branagh, and they were great. Jen Kessy was Jennifer Boss, playing with Rachel Wacholder, which became Rachel Scott, and they were amazing. Watching Holly McPeak was unbelievable, and Barbara Fontana. It turned out Diane DeNecochea lived down the street from us in San Diego, up in Bay Park, so we used to see them practice all the time.
On the men’s side, my favorites quickly became Stein Metzger and Mike Lambert. They were playing together in 2006, and watching them play, Stein Metzger, specifically, how crazy he was on the court, he kind of reminded me of a John McEnroe kind of guy, he was so intense, and playing like crazy, and then we met Casey Jennings, and he just became an instant favorite of ours from early on, the thing he used to do with the balls, throwing them back and forth with the volunteers was so cool, he made an effort to go around and thank everybody, Jen Kessy used to do that too. Real appreciation, not that someone told them to do it, but they wanted to do it, was just unbelievable.
Phil and Todd, well Phil is just the nicest guy ever. The players now, Tim Bomgren is ridiculously nice, Tim and Avery Drost are just ridiculous. I met Avery’s wife and daughter at the last tournament, I had a chance to visit with them, and they’re just the nicest people ever.
The McKibbin brothers are just awesome to watch, there are so many.
Lesa: You can’t just pick a favorite.
Mike: I can’t pick a favorite if my life depended on it. Today, watching Sara Hughes and Kelly Claes play, when they first came out to New York, I was like, ‘Who are these people?’ I talked to Dain Blanton, and he told me who they were, it was unbelievable. It was like watching Misty May play at 20 years old when I was watching Sara play. Sara and Summer are definitely top favorites right now, Kelly Claes, Brittany, these young girls that are coming out of school right now, Sarah Sponcil is ridiculous. Katie Spieler and Karissa Cook, they’re one of my favorite teams now. They’re so many. I have to mention all of them, because they’re so wonderful. And there’s more. Way more.
Lesa: When I first started volunteering, Phil and Todd Rogers were my favorites. Todd dug like crazy, it was insane. And then I really liked Jake and Rosie for a long time, and I have to say that Jake is still one of my favorites, they both seem quieter than the other players, but they’re so friendly, so nice, and amazing. I love Casey’s spirit, and I love Nick Lucena, because he gets so excited and pumped when they’re playing.
Mike: Ryan went to the same high school that I went to for one year. He was born in the same hospital that our eldest son was born in the same year in 1984. We met Ryan in Belmar in his first year, and all my friends were talking about a guy from Tom’s River, New Jersey. And I said, “There’s no professional volleyball player from Tom’s River, I know all the volleyball players, whoever you heard that from is wrong.”
And then he comes out, I think he was playing with Casey Patterson that year, and they won Belmar. We met Ryan and his family and his parents, and he’s just awesome too. He’s playing with Billy Allen now, and he and his wife Janelle Allen are just super too. I think I’ve mentioned every person. We have it in our volleyball room in San Diego.
Oh, and I can’t believe I didn’t mention Brooke (Sweat), probably because she’s been injured, since the beginning, we love Brooke, she’s coming back, she’ll always be one of my favorite players forever.”
VBM: You’ve been volunteering at tournaments for over thirteen years now, is there a particular match that stands out in your mind?
In Chicago one year, I can’t remember what year, Chris “Geeter” McGee was announcing, Karch was a commentator at the time, there was a crazy final match with Phil and Todd and Jake and Rosenthal. Rosie’s Raiders were there, the Chicago fans were there, a lot of drunk college kids having the best times of their lives, the stadium was packed, screaming, yelling, it was so much fun, kind of like the Olympic vibe. The fans were so into it, having the best time ever. It’s those kind of party atmosphere events that are our favorite to do. Chicago fans are the best, it’s just a big party.
VBM: The Perrys have become such a fixture on the pro tour that they have their own fans.
Mike: The ridiculous part started four or five years ago when fans started coming up to us, wanting to know our story, what we were doing at all of the different events. We started to get fans, and it was ridiculous. I would come out of a bathroom and people would track us down to say, “Hey, we saw you in Cincinnati, we saw you in Manhattan Beach, we saw you in New York.”
We actually have fans that will track us down to get pictures with us. We have fans from Kentucky that thought I looked like one of their friends, so they called me by their friend’s name Jay. They would be in the stadium screaming, “Jay,” and I would look and wave at them, and then they would start hooting and hollering. It got to the point where we have fans at every stop, that come up to us, and talk to us like we’re somebody.
VBM: What are your plans for 2019?
Mike: Next year we’re going to go volunteer in some international tournaments, we’re going to go volunteer in Gstaad, in Vienna, and probably Hamburg.
From what I’ve heard, we decided not to volunteer for Tokyo. I had actually seriously considering volunteering for London, but the way they run the volunteer program, you sign up months and months in advance, go through serious training, and then they decide what event you will work at. There’s no guarantee that you will work anywhere if you volunteer at the Olympics, and you could be at rowing, or archery, or work in parking, whatever.
We’ve talked to volunteers that have worked at PGA tournaments, and they’ve asked us to do that, too, picking up the famous golfers like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and so on. We might do it, but I’m so addicted to volleyball, it’s always going to be the first priority.”
VBM: You’re such a huge volleyball fan, do you play as well?
Mike: I tried to put together some after-work volleyball in San Diego, couldn’t get anybody to do it, I was shocked, I got two guys to show up one time, and I finally gave up. We’ve looked at playing VAVI, I’ve thought of joining a recreational league for the fun of it, I want Lesa to go, but she refuses (Lesa is 5-2).
We’re short, we’re old, and we’re out of shape, and I have knee problems. I love to play for fun with family at picnics, or different events, and I do love it even though I’m horrible. Watching these 10 and 12 year old AVPFirst kids play, I would be so embarrassed to lose to these kids. We would lose to these 10-year-old kids out here. I know that they’re special kids, they’re not regular kids, the future of the sporty is unbelievable.
And if I stay there (at Delta) nine more years, I can retire from Delta again, and we get our flight benefits for life. I have it figured out, I’ll be 62, really, really retired, and we’ll fly around the world for free, still doing volleyball.
The following is a gallery of Mike and Lesa’s AVP tournaments for 2018.