The National Federation of State High School Associations announced in September that overall participation in interscholastic sports declined for the first time in 30 years during the 2018-19 school year. Football and basketball experienced significant drops, but optimism abounds for other sports.
Take volleyball, which is sustained by a plethora of feeder programs at the local youth levels.
Volleyball boasts the second-highestnumber of participants among girls (488,267), behind only outdoor track and field. Even more promising for event organizers and facility operators is the fact that participation numbers in boys’ volleyball have been climbing for the past seven years — including a 26 percent spike during 2018-19.
That’s why tourism officials in Lake County, Florida, home to prime indoor and beach volleyball venues, are looking to land a regional boys’ volleyball tournament soon. And why the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau has partnered with the promoter of a major girls’ volleyball tournament in the city to bring a premier boys’ event to northern Illinois.
“We’ve reached a point where we’re seeing more boys starting to participate at a younger age,” says Jordyn Newsome, sports sales manager for Spooky Nook Sports, a large indoor/outdoor multi-purpose sports facility in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that hosted a boys’ tournament in 2018 for the first time. “We also put on co-ed clinics, and we’re hoping boys’ interest in the sport continues.”
That said, the vast majority of volleyball tournaments are still dominated by female participants, and players frequently travel with parents, siblings and extended family members. Thus, there’s no shortage of destinations that make the sport a top priority.
The Wildwoods, New Jersey
The Wildwoods Convention Center has established itself as a beach volleyball hotbed, thanks to its location on the world-famous Wildwoods Boardwalk along the Atlantic coast.
“The beach volleyball courts are positioned between two amusement park piers, with the Atlantic Ocean as the backdrop,” says Ben Rose, director of marketing for the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Authority and Wildwoods Convention Center. “We can seat up to 3,000 spectators, and a limitless number of courts can be set up on our expansive beach, which is the largest beach on the East Coast.”
As of this writing, Rose and his team were working to secure a pair of high-profile beach volleyball tournaments, as well as expand the tournament schedule inside the 75,000-square-foot convention center, which can accommodate up to a dozen volleyball courts with bleacher seating. Rose says that once promoters of events in other sports — such as basketball or wrestling — come to the facility, they often return with a volleyball tournament.
Located about a tank of gas away from nearly one-third of the U.S. population, The Wildwoods area boasts more than 8,000 hotel rooms and more than 3,000 condo rentals.
Lake George, New York
Approximately a five-hour drive directly north of The Wildwoods is Lake George — home to the Adirondack Sports Complex (which offers up to 14 volleyball courts), the Cool Insuring Arena (four courts) and the Glen Falls Recreation Center (four courts).
In May, Lake George hosted the Iroquois-Empire Volleyball Association’s Junior Regional Championships, a USA Volleyball event that attracted 4,000 players who competed on 32 courts around the area. The tournament will return in 2020 and likely utilize as many as 38 courts, according to Kristen Hanifin, special event and convention sales director for the Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce and CVB.
The Cool Insuring Arena also hosts the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Girls’ Volleyball Championships in November.
“The Lake George area has the ability to host larger volleyball events due to its room capacity — over 9,000 budget-friendly guest rooms,” Hanifin says, adding that its central location makes it less than a four-hour drive from Albany, New York; New York City; Boston; Montreal; and numerous cities in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New England.
Beach volleyball also is gaining strength in Lake George. In 2017, the region hosted the EVP Queen of American Lakes Pro Am Tournament with 32 teams at Million Dollar Beach, and a locally sponsored tournament utilizes 16 courts on Million Dollar Beach every August with 800 amateur teams. Hanifin hopes to bring a beach juniors tournament to Lake George in 2020 or 2021.
Lake County, Florida
Head further down the East Coast and you’ll eventually reach another prime beach volleyball destination, near the Orlando area. Lake County’s Hickory Point Beach sand volleyball complex in Tavares, a $2.2 million facility funded by the county’s tourist development tax, features 21 lighted volleyball courts on 68 acres of Florida lakefront.
Since it opened in 2014, Hickory Point has hosted the American Volleyball Coaches Association Small College Beach Championship and USA National Beach Tour qualifying rounds, as well as the Sunshine State Athletic Conference High School State Championships. The adjacent Hickory Point Beach Athletic Center opened in 2019 and includes spacious accommodations for restrooms, locker rooms, training areas, meeting spaces and concessions.
“We know we’re not on the beach, but we have the largest beach volleyball facility in the state,” says Steven Clenney, sports development manager for Visit Lake. “The standalone building and lighted courts have really separated us from other beach volleyball venues.”
Lake County offers indoor volleyball opportunities, too. The Big House, also in Tavares, provides up to 16 volleyball courts and hosts AAU Volleyball Super Regional events.
Conway might be a landlocked community, but that’s not preventing beach volleyball from making a mark. The University of Central Arkansas launched a Division I beach volleyball team in 2017 and plays on sand exclusive to the university. Because of the university’s willingness to share its facilities in the name of sports tourism, though, it might eventually help bring in some additional non-collegiate beach volleyball competition.
Until then, Conway is home to the Don Owen Complex, a large multi-purpose indoor/outdoor facility that can accommodate as many as six volleyball courts, as well as the McGee Center, a similarly sized facility with comparable indoor offerings located on the other side of the city.
Both venues host the annual two-day Conway Classic Blast Tournament in February, which typically brings in more than 80 teams, as well as other regional events. Additionally, UCA operates the Prince Center, which accommodates up to five volleyball courts.
“We’d like to grow our indoor sports,” says Rachel Shaw, director of destination marketing for the Conway Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We have lots of baseball and softball facilities, so we’re super busy in the summer months. Volleyball is a growth opportunity for us.”
Rocky Mount, North Carolina
Originally intended to serve as a community center for residents in Rocky Mount, the city-owned and privately managed 165,000-square-foot Rocky Mount Event Center opened in 2018 and quickly became a regional indoor sports destination.
A 75,000-square-foot fieldhouse allows for up to 16 volleyball courts with the option of a 50-by-94-foot master court and plenty of bleachers for championship matches, and the facility has hosted high-profile USA Volleyball regional tournaments. The goal is to eventually book state and national events, according to Ashley Pittman, marketing manager for the Rocky Mount Event Center.
The facility hosts a variety of events and boasts a 15,000-square-foot Game Day Adventure & Arcade, and a new parking garage is expected to open in 2020.
“It’s bringing people here who otherwise would never enter our city,” Pittman says, noting that the nearest comparable facility is more than three hours away. “Surprisingly, even before we were open, people knew about us. The word was out.”
The downtown facility has sparked major economic development in the area, she adds, with new hotels and restaurants.
Another facility giving its community an economic boost is Spooky Nook Sports, a privately operated 700,000-square-foot multi-purpose facility in Lancaster that boasts 10 hardwood volleyball courts and enough modular court space to fit an additional 36 volleyball courts.
Spooky Nook (housed in an old flooring factory) hosts about 20 volleyball tournaments per year, according to Jordyn Newsome, sports sales manager, and consistently attracts teams that drive from as far as five hours away. Among the largest of those events are January’s MLK Kickoff Classic, which utilizes all of Spooky Nook’s courts and those at other facilities in the area, and March’s Irish Rumble, which also was the first tournament the facility hosted when it opened in 2013.
Spooky Nook offers in-house athletic training services for tournament participants, provided by a local orthopedic practice, as well as an on-site restaurant and 135-room hotel.
“Being able to wake up in the morning, walk down the hall and be on the courts in five minutes is a great experience that our guests tell us they love,” Newsome says. “People want to compete and sleep under the same roof.”
Future plans call for Spooky Nook to open a 1-million-square-foot facility (a former paper mill) in Hamilton, Ohio — located about eight hours from Lancaster — in 2021 or 2022, she adds.
Similar to the Spooky Nook facilities, the UW Health Sports Factory in Rockford — located just south of the Illinois-Wisconsin border — has been repurposed from an industrial building. In this case, the site was home to a former machine tool factory, and its shell remains in place today.
With 105,000 square feet of flexible space, the UW Health Sports Factory is considered one of the largest sports facilities in the Midwest and is operated by the Rockford Park District. The venue can house up to 16 volleyball courts (including two championship courts) and boasts plenty of bleacher seating.
Additionally, three public high school fieldhouses offer a total of 10 more volleyball courts, making it easy for Rockford to accommodate major events like the Rockin’ Rockford AAU Grand Prix. Entering its third year, that tournament is expected to bring 200 teams from around the Midwest to the city in 2020, according to Nick Povalitis, director of sports development for the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. Rockford is within reasonable driving distance of such major cities as Milwaukee, Chicago, Indianapolis and St. Louis.
“Rockford has been a sports tourism destination for outdoor fields for years, and we wanted to replicate that success with indoor sports,” Povalitis says. “We’d love to have five more events of the same caliber as Rockin’ Rockford.”
A 159-room hotel is expected to open across the Rock River from the Sports Factory in early 2020.
An easy drive from Southern California, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, Tucson offers multiple volleyball venues. The Tucson Convention Center (with 90,000 square feet of volleyball space) co-hosts the annual Cactus Classic Invitational with the Sporting Chance Center (a 40,000-square-foot indoor space featuring floating wood floors), which brings approximately 165 volleyball teams to the area every Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend.
Tucson has hosted the event since 2010, and several other venues — including the LEAD Premium Athletic Complex and facilities on the University of Arizona campus — also offer volleyball options.
“Tucson is a rapidly growing travel destination, having recently been the first city in the United States to be awarded the UNESCO City of Gastronomy designation, as well as being listed as a World Festival & Event City by the International Festivals & Events Association,” says Graeme Hughes, senior vice president of sales for Visit Tucson Sports. “One trip to Tucson, and you will see for yourself why we received all of these accolades.” SDM
Home Court for Large Events: Hershey Harrisburg
“V” is for Volleyball. And VOLUME. And VERSATILITY. The Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center offers space for 30 courts in one open hall, making it the perfect spot to host large-scale volleyball events. Arrange the Sport Court to fit any layout and configuration your event should need and rest easy, knowing that abundant on-site parking will accommodate every athlete, fan, referee and volunteer.
The Farm Show’s Expo Hall is home to four annual events produced by the Keystone Regional Volleyball Association, the largest being February’s Boys Atlantic Northeastern Bid Tournament that averages at least 200 teams each year and awards bids to the USA Volleyball Boys Junior National Championships. The facility is just minutes away from the iconic destination of Hershey, where athletes often spend an additional day (or two) enjoying all things chocolate.
For more information, contact Hershey Harrisburg Sports & Events Authority Business Development Manager Dean Polk at 717-231-2989.