The San Diego volleyball community came together Saturday for the fourth-annual Mike Whitmarsh invitational at Dog Beach in Del Mar, Calif. The event commemorates the late AVP great Mike Whitmarsh, who won a silver medal in the 1996 Olympics with Mike Dodd.
For five years after his death, Whitmarsh was honored with a golf tournament.
“Golf was about the older guys, and all of us getting together,” long-time AVP announcer Chris “Geeter” McGee said.
“Now that Mike’s daughters are all grown up, we thought, ‘What would Mike really want? He would want volleyball.”
So they created a four-on-four tournament and it grew to 60 teams this year.
“I’m excited with where this tournament is now,” McGee said. “(Former AVP player and WAVE beach director) Matt Olson has done a great job getting these kids down here. The fact that it’s growing, it’s important for us. This is our ninth year, Mike would have been 56 yesterday. I always say, he was our Mickey Mantle.
“We get to honor him, do it right, and it’s great for the sport.”
“Whittie” meant the world to McGee.
“Mike was one of my best friends,” McGee said. “I talked to him every day. He was a mentor for me and a lot of other guys. The fact that we’re still honoring him and raising money for good causes and keeping his spirit alive is really important to me and a lot of us.”
The highlight of the event is the “Legends” match, where former AVP Pros battle it out in the four-on-four format with McGee on the mic.
This year’s event featured former AVP pros Mark Williams, Canyon Ceman, Tyler Hildebrand, Brent Hilliard, Matt Motter, Scott Lane, Matt Unger, and Al Janc, who took turns being heckled by Geeter.
The tournament raises funds for disadvantaged kids, specifically the Starlings Volleyball Clubs, but others, too.
“Our foundation has teamed up with Starlings so that half of the money goes to the Whitmarsh foundation and half to Starlings,” said Whitmarsh’s wife, Cindy. “Starlings helps inner-city kids who can’t afford club volleyball.
“And last year we raised over $10,000 to give to a young athlete, Cal’s Savannah Rennie, who needed a liver transplant,” Cindy said. “She got the transplant, she’s healthy, and it’s amazing. It was very rewarding to be a part of that.”
But Whitmarsh’s most enduring legacy is his two children, Jaden and Kendall.
Jaden is a 5-foot-8, 17-year-old who is going to UCLA and will play beach volleyball for the NCAA champions. Kendall, 14, has recently given up soccer to pursue beach volleyball.
“It’s really important to keep his name alive,” Cindy said. “His memory, what he brought to the sport, but it’s really important for me, my girls, and their family to do this every year. So the girls get to hear stories about him from the guys that used to play with him and against him, and they love it. They get to hear something new every year, and it just renews their inspiration and love for their dad. It’s super-emotional, but it’s also empowering at the same time.”
It’s also important from a beach-volleyball sense.
“This is a great opportunity for me to connect with the community on a large scale,” Olson said. “WAVE beach is a large part of it, there are a lot of athletes here from our club, but in turn all the local clubs have athletes here and it’s awesome to see them come together for a common cause, and really a common opportunity.
“It’s four-on-four, it’s fun, it’s a little bit different than what they’re used to. There’s 29 14s teams here. In turn, there’s almost 60 teams total, we have a big contingent from L.A. that comes down, and widespread north county, east county, south county, they’re all here.
“I really feel like the tournament is so unique, it’s such a great opportunity. We have teams from 12U on up to masters. It’s just great to be a part of that opportunity, and a chance to give back.”