AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championship Coming to Alabama’s Gulf Coast

22 Apr, 2013

Humble Beginnings Have Led to High-Level Play in Area, Say Organizers

The Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Sports Commission (GSOBSC) along with the City of Gulf Shores and the Gulf Coast Region of USA Volleyball is set to host the AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championships featuring the top six college teams in the country as well as the top doubles teams across all schools.

The championships take place from May 3 through 5 on Gulf Shores Main Public Beach. Leading up to the AVCA event, the Gulf Coast Region of USA Volleyball’s Beach Series Junior and Adult Tournament will take place at the same site on Saturday, April 27 from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

But according to organizers, Gulf Coast Region of USA Volleyball commissioner Phillip Bryant and supporters have paved the way for championship volleyball play on the Gulf Coast

Strength, determination and perseverance are three qualities that have driven Coach Phillip Bryant, commissioner of the Gulf Coast Region of USA Volleyball, to develop volleyball as a mainstream sport on the Gulf Coast. For the second year running, the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) will hold its 2013 Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championships in Gulf Shores in May. AVCA is one of many organizations to host their events on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, and the coach hopes that the organization will continue to seek out the area as a volleyball destination.

As an advocate for developing the sport of volleyball, Bryant has had a rich career filled with humble beginnings and bountiful breakthroughs for the sport.

Bryant developed a passion for athletics at an early age, but it was not until college that he discovered a particular passion for volleyball. A 1977 graduate of Auburn University with a degree in physical education, Bryant developed his love for the sport with the help of his coaching education professor. After graduating from Auburn, Bryant put his passion for sports into action by instituting the athletic program at the Department of Youth Services in Birmingham.

In 1980, the coach moved to Gulf Shores to develop the first athletic program in the area at Gulf Shores School. The athletic program began in 1982 with basketball and track teams and expanded to include an exhibition volleyball team in 1987. In 1988, Bryant’s team made history.

“From those humble beginnings of middle school volleyball in 1988 as the first competitive school to play volleyball in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, there grew a high school program at Gulf Shores High School coached by Wing Brett,” Bryant explained. “The high school team coached by Brett participated in 11 years of Elite 8 competition at the state championship level. The team’s highest finish was second place in the state in 2002.”

Bryant went on to pursue his master’s in kinesiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1992, where he served as the assistant volleyball coach. From there, he served as the head volleyball coach for Wallace Community College of Hanceville, Ala. and for the University of West Alabama in Livingston, Ala.

Wishing to grow the sport for local athletes, Bryant along with other volleyball enthusiasts began the process to become a region of USA Volleyball, the national governing body for beach volleyball in the U.S. In 1998, the Gulf Coast Region was unanimously approved by the USA Volleyball board as well as the Regional Volleyball Associations (RVAs) as the 36th region of the association.

As commissioner since the region’s inception in 1998, Bryant has seen its membership grow from 128 charter members to more than 2,300. The Gulf Coast has led the nation in membership growth for USA Volleyball in five of the last eight years.

As a region of USA Volleyball, the Gulf Coast is comprised of club teams aspiring to reach an elite, Olympic level. Bryant says that in addition to the West and East Coasts, Alabama’s Gulf area has the opportunity to become the next coast to host collegiate volleyball events in addition to AVCA’s National Championships.

“This region can host, foster, craft and grow a national championship collegiate sport,” he noted. “We want to be the third coast that athletes can count on to host collegiate events, and our goal is to host collegiate sand volleyball as a permanent site.”

Considering that, Bryant went on to explain that the North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation (NORCECA), the organization “responsible for…the staging of Olympic and World Championship zone qualification tournaments, as well as continental championships for both men and women in indoor and beach volleyball” (source), is in talks to bring the World Championships to Alabama’s Gulf Coast in 2016. According to the coach, the opportunities for sand as well as indoor volleyball would be endless if such an event were to take place in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

Bryant says the major reason he and area supporters are able to further promote volleyball today is because of the efforts of American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Executive Director, Kathy DeBoer, along with former Southeastern Conference Associate Commissioner, Debbie Corum, and recently retired Sun Belt Commissioner, Wright Waters, who paved the way for the NCAA to approve sand volleyball as an Emerging Sport for women in 2009. Once the number of schools sponsoring sand volleyball teams reaches a championship status of 40, the sport, upon budget approval, will become the 90th officially-sanctioned NCAA championship sport.

“The scariest moment of all was that sand volleyball was facing an override vote at the 2010 NCAA Convention,” Bryant exclaimed. “Because of the efforts of Debbie, Wright, Kathy and several others on behalf of the sport, the children in our community have the chance to play sand volleyball. Because of their determination, we have a great opportunity to grow this sport in the Gulf Coast region and beyond.”

“Sand volleyball would have been the first sport in NCAA history to get voted off the emerging sports list because it was too popular,” DeBoer laughed, recalling the override vote in 2010. “Several sly administrators realized that if sand volleyball became an official NCAA sport, they would be pressured to add a team because so many kids would want to play. Their only recourse was to try to keep it off the list. And, they were right; now some who voted against sand volleyball just three years ago are adding a team.”

Among numerous stories of children in the community developing a passion for the sport, Bryant recants with a smile the story of Gulf Shores Elementary student Ava Best and her volleyball lineage. Ava, who plays volleyball for the Gulf Coast Region, has made it her life’s goal to play sand volleyball at the collegiate level because of her mother’s and grandmother’s love of the sport. Her mother, Analise Navia, played college volleyball and has been instrumental in the area’s sand volleyball efforts. Ava’s grandmother, Barbara Harwerth, was a member of the first Olympic women’s national volleyball team in 1964. Bryant recalls that the athletes competing in the 2012 AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championships were in awe of Harwerth’s accomplishments, noting that it was “history in the making.”

Bryant expresses that the families across coastal Alabama have made the region’s efforts possible. As a structured, officiated and implemented sport, the sophistication of the game has blossomed and has captured the public’s fascination.

“We have phenomenal families in this region,” Bryant expressed. “We have a unique region where we have passion and spirit across all age groups. The atmosphere in the gym is uplifting as parents not only cheer on their own kids, but other neighboring clubs as well.”

“Coach Bryant won’t ever take a lot of credit,” DeBoer said. “But I can tell you for sure, the success of the Collegiate National Sand Championships has as much to do with him as anyone else. It’s not only his hard work, but his enthusiasm and ever-positive attitude, that makes Gulf Shores a place people want to come to play. He is a local treasure.”

For information on upcoming athletic events along Alabama’s Gulf Coast, visit www.gulfshoresorangebeachsports.com, or call 1-800-745-SAND.


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