When the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) released its first sports participation report in three years in September, volleyball was the only top 10 sport among girls to register an increase. What’s more, with 454,150 participants, volleyball could eventually surpass track and field in the top spot among high school girls.
On the boys’ side, volleyball was among the sports generating the highest participation increases since the 2018-19 school year — the last time the NFHS tracked such data. Additionally, the emerging sport of girls’ beach volleyball nearly tripled its number of participants, thanks to the increasing prevalence of beach volleyball at the college level.
Tomorrow’s top high school and college players are sharpening their skills today in volleyball clubs, at volleyball showcases and via high-profile tournaments — all of which give sports tourism destinations a big bump.
From the East Coast to the West Coast and at multiple points in between, sports tourism destinations are making volleyball a top priority. Here are eight places that encourage you to bump, set and spike as much as you’d like.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
“Youth volleyball has grown in popularity, to the point of rivaling girls’ basketball — and in some regions, outperforming girls’ basketball,” says Jonathan Paris, executive director of sports tourism for Visit Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. “The growth and exposure of the sport at the collegiate and Olympic levels has helped fuel this.”
Paris has seen the evolution firsthand. The John T. Rhodes Myrtle Beach Sports Center is one of the most popular indoor facilities in the Southeast, he says, and it offers up to 16 volleyball courts. Meanwhile, the Myrtle Beach Convention Center can fit 15 courts and is used as overflow for larger tournaments.
The city’s local youth volleyball club, Grand Strand Juniors, hosts multiple major tournaments each year, including the Winter Bump in January that attracts more than 200 teams, and other tournaments average about 100 teams per event, according to Paris.
Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, Florida
Volleyball tournaments are one of the prime attractions at the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC), where much of the facility’s 2.1 million square feet of exhibit space can be converted to hundreds of volleyball courts and accommodate thousands of attendees. The facility is centrally located in Orlando’s tourist district and is only a 15-minute drive to the Orlando International Airport.
Over a three-month span in 2022, the OCCC hosted the Sunshine Volleyball Classic, the ASICS Florida Volleyball Challenge, the USA Volleyball Open National Championships and Corporate Annual Meeting, the Molten Boys Southeastern Championships and the 49th AAU Junior National Volleyball Championship. All told, six volleyball events between April and June brought an estimated 226,000 people to the convention center, generating a projected economic impact of $290 million.
In 2023, the Sunshine Volleyball Classic and the ASICS Florida Volleyball Challenge will return, as well as the AAU Junior National Volleyball Championship (which is expected to attract at least 130,000 attendees, according to OCCC officials).
“There isn’t an official moment in time when volleyball became a big deal; [it’s] more like continual drops in the bucket,” says Jason Siegel, president of the Greater Orlando Sports Commission. “And Central Florida is at the epicenter.”
Orlando represents one corner of a central Florida volleyball triangle. The sport is thriving in Gainesville — located about two hours northwest of Orlando — where the Alachua County Sports & Events Center at Celebration Pointe is expected to open in January 2023. With 18 volleyball courts, the facility will house the most courts under one roof in the county, according to Joleen Cacciatore, executive director of the Gainesville Sports Commission.
“With the opening of the new center, Alachua County will now be able to become a new volleyball destination in the state,” she says. “Before this center was planned, the largest number of courts in one location in Alachua County was five. Once the center opens, we will be able to host volleyball tournaments and camps.”
Prior to the new facility (which will be part of a new neighborhood development with residential, lodging, retail and dining spaces called Celebration Pointe), the Gainesville area could only host showcase events that required one main court and arena seating. Those events are held at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, home to the University of Florida women’s volleyball team. The Gainesville Sports Commission also has hosted the North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball (NORCECA) Girls’ Youth Continental Championships at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
Lake County, Florida
Completing the central Florida volleyball triangle, Lake County is leveraging the burgeoning beach volleyball movement at Hickory Point Beach. The 68-acre facility in Tavares is home to Florida’s largest permanent sand volleyball complex, with 21 lighted courts and a 4,000-square-foot athletic center that includes locker rooms, a training room and concessions stands. In addition to Hickory Point, Tavares also boasts The Big House, an indoor facility with 16 volleyball courts that has hosted AAU Volleyball Super Regional events.
Earlier this year, the Association of Volleyball Professionals announced the addition of the 2022 Central Florida Open at Hickory Point Beach, scheduled for early December. Coinciding with the AVP event will be World ParaVolley’s USA Beach ParaVolley tournament.
“Lake County is thrilled to host such an elite level of competition this winter,” says Ryan Ritchie, director of Visit Lake, noting that Lake County’s proximity to Orlando (about 35 miles) makes it even more attractive to visitors.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama
Another destination that hosted a Beach ParaVolley event in 2022 was Gulf Shores, Alabama, which offers 32 miles of natural beachfront — including Gulf Place Public Beach. That site welcomed the 2022 NCAA Beach Volleyball National Championship, and also hosts major youth qualifiers and various adult events. The beach is located on the Gulf of Mexico and is within walking distance of shops and restaurants.
“The beaches in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are ideal for beach volleyball, because they are a clean slate to build the site to an event’s specifications,” says Michelle Russ, vice president of sales, sports and events at Gulf Shores | Orange Beach Sports & Events, adding that Gulf Place Public Beach also will host the 2023 and 2024 NCAA Women’s Beach Volleyball Championships. “Collegiate, youth and adult volleyball events have grown exponentially along Alabama’s beaches since the American Volleyball Coaches Association began holding its collegiate national championship in Gulf Shores in 2014, which turned into the NCAA Women’s Beach Volleyball Championship in 2016 when beach volleyball became an NCAA-sanctioned sport.”
Indoor and outdoor club volleyball participation numbers have spiked in the region, too, according to Russ, a trend that’s likely to continue with the expected addition of four indoor courts and six outdoor courts at the Gulf Shores Sportsplex.
The number of volleyball events also is on the rise in Abilene, Texas, thanks in large part to the 55,500-square-foot Dodge Jones Youth Sports Center, which offers eight hardwood volleyball courts and hosts several USA Volleyball events. The facility, which opened in late 2020, also accommodates livestreaming and multi-angle video recording.
“Volleyball has changed so much for us over the past few years, and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” says Tiffany Nichols, sales and sports director for the Abilene Convention & Visitors Bureau. “As a destination, we love hosting volleyball events.”
Located near the heart of Texas with a “15-minute rush hour,” Abilene’s central location and ease of travel make it an ideal destination for volleyball teams looking to compete in high-profile sanctioned events, according to Nichols.
Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
Further north, the western Philadelphia suburb of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania is becoming a volleyball hotbed.
“We’ve seen volleyball grow in popularity, and our venues really enjoy hosting travel volleyball tournaments and are clamoring to host more events. It’s fun to watch, and families don’t mind traveling together to enjoy the competition,” says Jon Scheuren, director of sports for the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board, adding that volleyball generates more overnight rooms per tournament in the area than other sports. It also generates a higher local spend per attendee than other sports.
The Valley Forge area offers multiple volleyball venues, including the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center at Oaks, which boasts 240,000 square feet of flexible space that can accommodate more than 30 volleyball courts on modular flooring. Competitive Edge in King of Prussia, meanwhile, offers up to seven hardwood volleyball courts. The region also has several locations with ample grass space to host outdoor volleyball tournaments, Scheuren says — including the Pottstown Rumble at Memorial Park, billed as “the largest grass doubles volleyball tournament in the world.”
Upcoming high-profile events include the 2023 East Coast Power Volleyball Prez Day Showdown at the Expo Center and a We Build | You Play program.
“During COVID, we were able to host several major events that were temporarily displaced from other venues,” Scheuren said. “We’re within easy driving distance to most of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern U.S.”
Placer Valley, California
Prior to 2020, Placer Valley — which includes the Northern California cities of Rocklin, Roseville and Lincoln — barely registered on the radar of volleyball event organizers.
“Large, impactful volleyball tournaments were unheard of in Placer Valley until we built the Roebbelen Center, which features 24 volleyball courts with nets that lower from the ceiling at the push of a button,” says Donna Dotti, director of sales for Placer Valley Tourism. “As a result, we’re seeing tons of volleyball, with boys’ volleyball proving to be the latest emerging sport.”
Indeed, the Northern California Volleyball Association, which is part of USA Volleyball, has booked five boys’ tournaments at the Roebbelen Center, and the number of girls’ volleyball events are increasing both indoors and out, too.
The $34 million Roebbelen Center is part of the @the Grounds event facility, which was built on an underutilized county fairgrounds site, and it is promoted as the only facility of its kind on the West Coast. The center boasts more than 108,000 square feet of unobstructed floor space and a 35-foot ceiling span, allows for configurable 14-row telescopic bleachers and tip-and-roll bleachers, and offers livestreaming capabilities and proximity to hotels, local amenities and the Sacramento International Airport. The Roebbelen Center has hosted USA Volleyball- and Junior Volleyball Association-sanctioned events, and in 2023 it will welcome several tournaments including at least five more boys’ tournaments.
Volleyball officials at the national level expect the trend toward more boys’ events to continue.
“What we find is that stigma, that volleyball is a girls’ sport, is gone. Boys are not embarrassed to play like they might have been generations ago,” Jamie Davis, chief executive officer of USA Volleyball, told VolleyballMag.com in June. “They go out there, and they have fun, and now they’re looking to find places to play. That’s a really good change.”
Regardless of who’s playing — boys, girls, college athletes, pros or Olympians — volleyball continues to captivate fans while helping cities scoop up serious economic impact dollars. As Lake County’s Ritchie says: “Volleyball is being aired on television more, adding to its visibility and growing popularity. It seems like anytime you’re looking for a sport to watch on TV, there’s a collegiate match on.”
And there’s a good chance that match might be happening at one of the eight destinations profiled above. SDM