Here’s an interesting trend: high school volleyball, long a stronghold in girls’ sports, is seeing a spike in participation among the opposite gender.
In 2016, there were no surprises. The National Federation of State High School Associations found that 444,779 girls played volleyball. Boys’ participation was the typical fraction of this: just 57,209 players at 2,400 schools.
But a funny thing happened on the way to 2017: boys’ numbers shot up, with growth surging 15.7 percent over five years. USA Volleyball membership has grown 14.1 percent nationwide, with some regions seeing growth of over 50 percent.
John Kessel, director of sport development for USA Volleyball, believes the growth in boys’ participation is due to emerging awareness of concussion in sports such as football. For girls, he says, the scholarship opportunities are a big lure, though boys’ scholarship opportunities are far fewer.
“For the last four years, the number-one high school team sport for girls has been volleyball,” he says. Five-year trends have shown that the two sports that have grown by double digits are track and field and boys’ volleyball, in particular.”
In fact, there have been increases at all levels and on all surfaces: indoor and outdoor, where the sport is played on both sand and on grass. Women’s beach volleyball became an NCAA championship sport two years ago and has been growing explosively ever since.
Tom Galecke, director of Oshkosh, Wisconsin’s Waupaca Boatride Volleyball Tournament, also known as “the US Open of Grass Volleyball,” says his event has seen significant growth. In 2017, 1,534 teams competed on 254 grass courts and 20 sand courts: a 32 percent increase over just three years. The event, which began with two- and three-player teams of adults, now includes four-player teams, a youth division and a masters division.
“Six years ago, we saw a lot of gouging of parents’ wallets by certain aspects in the volleyball world, so we decided to add a junior clinic and junior tournament to make it more affordable,” says Galecke.
Also increasing in popularity is para-volleyball, or sitting volleyball, which is played on a six-by-10-meter court, or about one-third the size of a typical court. Kessel notes that participation isn’t just for disabled people.
“There are many able-bodied people who play sitting volleyball to get a workout that doesn’t involve jumping” he says.
Following are some highlighted locations across the U.S. with the facilities and know-how to host volleyball events.
Aurora is home to the 85,000-square-foot Great Lakes Volleyball Center, which features 13 courts on a custom-designed floor. It’s home to the Great Lakes Power League and events such as the Mizuno Midwest Region Volleyball Crossover Tournament, the Presidents’ Day Challenge (about 400 teams each year), the National Junior Classic (also about 400 teams), and the Youth Classic, one of the largest younger-level youth events in the country. The town has also hosted volleyball at the Vaughn Athletic Center and the region’s high schools and universities. Aurora is accessible and event-friendly, according to Pete Garlock of the Aurora Area CVB.
“People are surprised at how large the area is and how many family-friendly venues and hotels we have,” he says. “We’re really starting to get on the radar of sports organizers.”
The Aurora Area CVB provides many services to event organizers, including a popular digital coupon program that gives event participants discounts for restaurants, stores and attractions on their smart phones.
“We try to make everything easy and enjoyable,” says Garlock. “People are always surprised when we don’t hand them a bill at the end of the event.”
Each September, Effingham hosts the Crossroads Classic Volleyball Tournament, a 24-team multi-state event that attracts around 2,000 attendees to the town’s school facilities. Effingham’s 10,600-square-foot Richard E. Workman Sports Complex has room for two AAU courts. Jodi Thoele, director of tourism for the Effingham CVB, says that Effingham is a classic “drive-in” city.
“It sits the intersection of two major highways: I-57 from Chicago to Miner, Missouri, and I-70 from Utah to Maryland,” she says. “The Champaign airport is about an hour away, and St. Louis is an hour and 40 minutes away. Effingham has only 12,000 residents, but we’ve got 1,200 hotel rooms.”
For downtime, the region has shopping, restaurants, walking and biking trails as well as several museums dedicated to cars: the Mid-America Motorworks My Garage Museum and the Corvette/VW museum. The CVB provides an array of services for sporting event planners.
“We’ll do public relations,” says Thoele. “We’ll help onsite for events and provide goody bags for participants, and offer assistance beforehand with picking a site.”
Lang County is no stranger to volleyball events. The CEVA Presidents’ Day tournament brings 4,000 participants and athletes to the 97,000-square-foot, 12-court Bob Keefer Center in Springfield each year. The Matt Hartner Classic attracts 5,000 people to the 117,000-foot, 16-court Moshofsky Center. The Keefer Center also hosts approximately 700 athletes annually for the Northwest Athletic Conference Volleyball Showcase.
Both venues are within 10 minutes of downtown Eugene and Springfield, and centrally located to the Eugene Airport as well as a waterpark, museums and restaurants. For after-hours activities, the region is ideal, according to Joey Jewell, director of sports sales and development at Eugene, Cascades & Coast Sports Commission, which employs an events professional to help with all aspects of tournament planning.
“We’re an hour from the coast and an hour from the Cascade mountains,” says Jewell. “Attendees can head up to the Mackenzie River area and see the waterfalls. We’re also the mountain biking capital of the Pacific Northwest, and not far from the beaches in Florence.”
Wildwood, New Jersey
Five miles of Atlantic beaches make for a good beach volleyball destination. Wildwood, which has 12 permanent beach courts and outdoor seating for 3,000, has an advantage as it’s already a major tourist destination with 8,000 hotel rooms, boardwalks, waterparks, restaurants and shops near several airports. It’s also a drive-in venue within a three-hour car trip for one-third of the U.S.
For indoor volleyball, Wildwoods has a 75,000-square-foot convention center with plenty of glass, ocean views and a roof that allows the sunlight in. The facility can support up to 14 courts with flexible seating.
“We’re really going after volleyball,” says Ben Rose, director of marketing and PR for the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority. “The beauty of having a tournament here is you get tremendous logistical support from staff and tourism authorities as well as opportunities for grants. We give about $600,000 annually to promoters, and events that bring in people in the off-season get extra consideration.”
Hershey Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
The Hershey Harrisburg area is no stranger to volleyball or tourism. This year, the region will host four tournaments run by Keystone Regional Volleyball Association. The Boys’ Atlantic Northeastern will see as many as 29 courts in the 129,000 Expo Hall, which will also host the Girls’ Bid and Club Challenge and the Girls’ Regional Championships.
Nearby is Hershey Park, the Pennsylvania State Museum, the National Civil War Museum and the Appalachian Trail. Around Harrisburg International Airport are 8,000 hotel rooms. It’s a “15-minute market,” according to Gregg Cook, executive director of the Hershey Harrisburg Sports & Events Authority.
“Wherever you are, or wherever you’re going, you’re going to be 15 minutes or less” he says. “We are willing and able to do whatever we can do to meet a particular event owner’s needs. Everybody’s different, so there’s no cookie cutter.”
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Every year, the Myrtle Beach Sports Center plays host to hundreds of teams for the Grand Strand Junior Volleyball Club’s Winter Bump event. The 100,000-square-foot Sports Center supports 16 courts on wooden floors. The Myrtle Beach Convention Center is also 100,000 square feet for an additional 16 courts. Seating capacity for the side-by-side venues is 3,000 each, and the Convention Center is connected to a Sheraton convention hotel.
And while a beach isn’t necessary for beach volleyball, it’s certainly nice to have. There are a number of beach volleyball courts in the area, including in the downtown region and the boardwalk areas.
“Volleyball is one of the stronger sports in the market,” says Mike Anderson, executive director of sports tourism for Myrtle Beach Region Sports Alliance. “It continues to expand because of the strength we have. We’re a hands-on organization and provide assistance to sporting events regardless of level, discounts to local attractions for participants and some compelling financial assistance to offset tournament expenses.”
Myrtle Beach has also hosted the SCISA’s State Championship, the Upstate Volleyball Club’s Beach Ball Bash, Carolina One Volleyball’s Beach Ball Bash Tournament and Kick Off Classic, and Champion Volleyball Club’s Myrtle Madness Tournament.
Sports are a way of life in Owensboro, so much so that Sports Illustrated has named it the number one sports town in Kentucky. The city has made no secret of its commitment to volleyball, and it has the willingness and facilities to pursue it. The downtown Owensboro Convention Center features 60,000 square feet of open floor space capable of holding nine courts with the addition of Sport Court floors. Five minutes out of town is the Owensboro Sports Center, a 5,000-seat multi-purpose arena with wood floors for three courts.
“We’re actively trying to get more indoor sports, and volleyball is a great target for us for travel teams,” says Jared Bratcher, sports director for the Davies County CVB.
Both facilities are within a few minutes of the Owensboro Regional Airport. The region has 1,200 hotel rooms now, with 600 more under construction. The city is currently seeing a growth boom in the form of a $500 million new development downtown that will create restaurants and shopping.
Owensboro also features campgrounds, laser tag, go-karting and miniature golf, and is home to the International Bluegrass Music Museum. The CVB offers a variety of services, including public relations and help on negotiating hotel contracts.
“We’ll be the go-between if event promoters need the housing bureau,” says Bratcher. “Depending on how big the event is, we can also help with grants to offset costs.”
Tavares, on the shores of Lake Dora, is home to the 68-acre Hickory Point Beach Sand Volleyball Complex as well as a downtown recreational complex in Wooten Park West that features two sand courts.
Bob Tweedie, economic development director for the City of Tavares, says Florida Region USA Volleyball has attracted a number of high-profile events to the area, including pre-Olympic and collegiate tournaments. The downtown courts are adjacent to three hotels, restaurants and bars, and the park has played host to high school and amateur tournaments. The city has also used Hickory Point and the downtown courts together.
“The finals from Hickory Point are held in the park downtown, since there’s better tourist infrastructure on the lakefront,” he says. “We’re going to continue to work closely with event planners for these joint ventures to use Hickory Point and finish the finals downtown.”
For indoor events, there is the Big House, a 68,000-square-foot sports complex with 16 courts that attracts large tournaments with thousands of attendees throughout the year. Tavares is “America’s Seaplane City.”
“The downtown area is wrapped around the seaplane base on the lakefront, and our entertainment district is there, including a splash park, historic tourist train and station,” says Tweedie. “We’ll soon be an officially licensed Polar Express railroad, and that will attract about 40,000 visitors this winter.”
The CVB employs a full-time event coordinator to work with promoters and help with facilities and local resources. The bureau also offers some sponsorship dollars to events deemed to be a benefit to the city’s overall vision and mission. SDM