AVPFirst, the community outreach arm of the AVP, held its fourth-annual Serving Up Style fashion show fundraiser this past Sunday. And not only did AVP pros walk the runway, the event raised money for underserved youth beach volleyball communities across the country.
What’s more, Olympic gold-medalist Dain Blanton and Olympian Jenny Johnson Jordan were inducted into the Wall of Fame. Our photo gallery of the event follows.
Most volleyball entities exist by cannibalizing existing programs, being better organized, offering bigger prize money or better prizes to entice players to their events.
Not so for AVPFirst.
AVPFirst goes into inner cities, building courts, providing equipment and free clinics to build the sport from the very bottom of the pyramid in order to truly increase the fan and player base of beach volleyball.
For AVPFirst executive director Tony Giarla, the evening’s celebration capped a successful year.
“It’s an amazing event, it’s our biggest event yet. We’re really excited about it,” Giarla said at the Hotel Pasea on Huntington Beach. “We have new sponsors, plenty of new guests, our largest silent auction ever, with over 30 items for bid, we’ve also added an online auction this year, which will be open for the next two weeks, it’s really about our ability to give back.”
This year AVPFirst debuted 20 solely owned and operated Juniors beach events, including national championship, zonal championships, and gold events, encompassing 2,000 junior beach players.
More importantly, AVPFirst has helped build several courts, partnering with boys’ and girls’ clubs and park and recreation departments, mostly recently in Hawai’i, Giarla said.
“With the support of the Hawai’i Tourism authority, we’re able to run a series of clinics across six of the Hawai’ian islands. With that, we’re also able to donate net systems, portable net systems so that the kids can play outdoors on the grass, on the beach, balls, equipment, everything they’ll need so they can play after we’re gone.
“What we learned about Hawai’i is the economic gap in Hawai’i between the haves and have-nots is so extreme, there are so many kids that are passionate about volleyball but just have no access. This whole year is about creating access, and that’s what we want to do moving forward. The majority of our focus, although we will always run competitive events, we’re going to run less and less of those, and use those as fund-raisers to support these other community-based initiatives moving forward.
“This year we had a thousand participants from low-income, high-risk inner-city kids, and over the last five years, we’re up to over 3,000 kids.”
Giarla has found the AVPFirst’s contributions well received.
“The response from the community has been overwhelming. I’ve met so many amazing people in my travels, and that’s the one thing that I’ve learned, that despite the neighborhood, or how difficult the external factors are, there are amazing people in each of these communities that just want better for their kids than what they had.
“And that’s what we’re trying to provide, a safe environment where they can let their guard down for a couple of hours, and really just be kids. Not have to worry about everything else that’s going on around them.
That’s not to say that Giarla’s job always goes smoothly.
“The first challenge is always finding finances,” he said. “Finding the right supporters, and the people to back your initiative, with the funds to grow those programs. The program works. I’ve spent 20 years doing programs within the inner city on a community-based, volunteer-driven model, and I’m taking those experiences that I’ve had across LA county out on the road, specifically to beach volleyball.
“The second challenge is finding open spaces to be able to build courts, finding the right partners and creating access in those communities.”
The AVPFirst has been able to tap into the professional beach volleyball community to provide quality clinics.
“I’ve targeted the younger generation of aspiring AVP pros to help deliver clinics, because I want them to grow with us, and I also want them to be able to advocate for the next generation of young players that are coming in, and say, ‘Hey, this is what AVPFirst was able to help me with, and if you support them, they’ll support you in this many ways,” Giarla said.
“Jeremy Casebeer has been on our board of directors. He’s held our athlete’s seat on our board since inception. He’s super-passionate about the environment, super-passionate about people, he takes a leadership role, but then he’s also on the ground running clinics, organizing, and helping the other athletes coach.”
Certainly pros like Casebeer receive all the social-media attention, but Giarla is driven by the love for the game that he sees in underserved communities.
“Everybody focuses on the top of the pyramid, but my heart is with the other 90 percent of the kids that just want to play, that have never had the opportunity, that are super-talented, but they just don’t have the means. And this event generates a lot of those dollars for us to do that work.”
Blanton, now the head coach of the USC beach team, is best known for his 2000 Olympics beach volleyball gold medal he won in Sydney with Eric Fonoimoana. Blanton won an NCAA men’s indoor championship with the Pepperdine in 1992, and had nine wins on the AVP tour. He’s been a volleyball analyst for NBC, ESPN and the AVP broadcasts on Amazon Prime.
“It’s a huge honor,” Blanton said. “I was surprised when I got the call. There’s only three athletes on it, so to get inducted this early is quite an honor. It’s humbling, There’s a long list of players that are deserving, and it’s nice to be honored so quickly.
“It makes you reflect on your career, and it’s always great to be appreciated.”
He had high praise for the AVP.
“What the AVP’s doing, it’s blanketing volleyball in the United States. In terms of supporting a grass roots effort, there’s so many organizations out there, but I have worked with and been a part of the AVP since the mid-90’s, so going on almost 25 years as a player and a broadcaster, and I’m all about supporting what (AVP owner) Donald Sun has done to bring this sport back, and what the organization is doing.
“Without the AVP, I never would have played volleyball. I was first introduced to the sport at Laguna Beach when I was 10 years old.”
Johnson Jordan was also a 2000 Sydney Olympian with long-time partner Annett Davis, finishing fifth. Her volleyball resume includes 12 domestic and international wins, plus an indoor championship with UCLA in 1991, runner-up in 1992 and 1994. Johnson Jordan is currently in her seventh year as assistant for the UCLA Bruins beach volleyball team, having won back-to-back championships in 2018–2019. She was acknowledged as the AVCA Assistant Coach of the Year for 2019.
Her father, Rafer Johnson, was an Olympic gold medalist in the Decathlon in 1960 after earning silver in the same event in 1956.
“It’s definitely an honor. I’m in great company with Dain, going in this year with myself, joining Misty (May-Treanor), Karch (Kiraly), and Todd (Rogers),” Jordan said. “It’s a great legacy of beach volleyball players playing the AVP, and I’m excited to be a part of that legacy.
“I know that for myself, I wish I had something like this growing up playing beach volleyball. I didn’t start playing until after college. I think it’s really important to support efforts to bring in the youth, give them a chance to compete at a high level, and compete next to the pros, their work is really exciting.”
Of course, one of the event’s big attractions is the fashion show, where fans get to see a different side of their favorite beach pros. This year featured Allie Wheeler, Allison Spurrier, Jessica Sykora, Traci Callahan, Nicolette Arnitz, Macy Jerger, Troy Field, Christian Honer, Jake Rosener, Mark Burik, Kyle Friend, Christopher McDonald, and Ian Satterfield.
This was Field’s second year at Serving Up Style. As a veteran, he was able to quiet his nerves and have more fun on the runway.
“This is year two, I was definitely feeling more like a veteran, and since Ed Ratledge wasn’t here, I feel like I could kind of fill his shoes, they’re giant shoes, but I was able to be a bit more theatrical, have more fun, and have a good time.”
Field has been one of the big supporters of the AVPFirst efforts.
“I’ve had a lot of experience with them and that platform, giving and travelling with them. I just want to make people laugh and have a good time here. Last year I was very stoic, I tried to take it very seriously, and this time, still taking it seriously but having a little bit more fun.”
Editor’s note: due to a recent WordPress update, we are having issues displaying gallery photos properly. A dozen of the photos are displayed below, but you can find the full gallery of photos from Serving Up Style here.