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Serve It Up! Beach Volleyball Returns to the Island

Nothing says “fun at the beach” quite like a rousing game of beach volleyball. Whether you’re playing a leisurely match with Uncle Bob and Cousin Christine or you’re soaring above the net unleashing 100 mph spikes under tournament conditions, the game conjures up images of care free summer days spent barefoot in the sand.

Beginning its 21st season on March 18, the Gulf Coast Volleyball Association (GCVA), based in Galveston, has provided a well run, organized venue for enthusiasts ranging in age from 12 to 60 and above. Founded around 1992 by Vic Clifford, the GCVA sanctions weekly beach tournaments from March through September at Stewart Beach, as well as indoor leagues at a variety sites.

On Sundays, Stewart Beach is a hive of activity, with more than 100 two-person teams regularly entered in GCVA tournaments, making the organization, according to Clifford, the biggest beach volleyball association on the Gulf Coast.

“I used to play in tournaments at the beach, but the guy that used to throw the tournaments opened up a club downtown, so there was no one throwing tournaments at the beach anymore, so I decided to start throwing them on the beach,” said Clifford, 50, who still plays regularly.

In the GCVA’s early days, Clifford says most tournaments featured meager fields of five to eight teams, but in those pre-Internet days, word of mouth, posting flyers at local colleges and running small notices in publications helped increase exposure and interest in the organization. Many of the players in those days were people who were playing in indoor volleyball leagues at area gyms who were looking to play some outdoor volleyball and hang out at the beach.

By its second year, GCVA tournament fields had grown from a high of 12 teams in the first season to averaging around 20 teams each week. The organization benefited from the early ’90s beach volleyball boom period when beer companies and other image conscious industries looking to rope in the young, attractive and active demographic were spending millions of dollars to sponsor tournaments. The addition of beach volleyball to the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta provided another boost.

“Most of our players when we started were men,” Clifford recalls, “but now we have more women players and almost as many juniors (age 18 and under) as adults. The latest boom has been in the junior influx.”

The weekly beach tournaments are open to two-person teams and include divisions for juniors and adults in men’s and women’s doubles, as well as coed. Play is broken down according to skill level, ranging from top shelf AA players to B level players.

With 15 permanent courts, Stewart Beach has become a Mecca for beach players, and in keeping with the free wheeling nature of the sport, tournaments are about more than strictly volleyball.

“We have DJs and live music going on and different promoters have give aways and other promotions. Plus, since we’re on the beach and there are always hundreds of people there, there’s always something going on. It becomes a pretty crowded area,” Clifford said.

In addition to providing an outlet for recreational players, the GCVA has also served as a training ground for players who have gone on to collegiate, national and international stardom in the sport.

“We have one current Olympian who used to play all the time when he was in high school and that’s Riley Salmon, who plays on the U.S. men’s indoor team. He played while he was at Clear Creek High School and continued after he was an adult,” Clifford says.

Californian Todd Rogers, the current AVP (Association of Volleyball Professionals) Tour champion and reigning Olympic gold medalist (along with partner Phil Dalhausser) played in a GCVA tourney while he was in college.

Schedule highlights this year include the Texas Junior Beach Open, a USA Volleyball junior national qualifying tournament, scheduled for May 19, and the Bud Light Texas Volleyball Championships, set for July 4 during the Chevy Freedom Over Texas celebration. Held at Houston’s Eleanor Tinsley Park, the event is the lone beach tournament on the schedule not held at Stewart Beach.