EAGLE-VAIL — King of Mountain brought volleyball players and fans of all ages to the valley Friday for the first day of the weekend-long tournament.
On the young end were players such as 12-year-old Bailey Sprague, of Leadville, who came with her whole family to participate in the juniors clinic held Friday.
“We have a long summer this year, from May to September,” said Bailey’s mother, Alison Sprague. “So (Bailey) is focusing on her volleyball. She was in sixth grade last year, and she played on an eighth-grade team.”
The beach volleyball clinic Bailey participated in was free for kids and coached by professional beach volleyball players as a way of introducing young people to the sport, which is exploding in popularity.
A sign-of-the-times event, the King of the Mountain boasted the distinction of being the largest beach volleyball doubles tournament in the U.S. last year, attracting more than 600 teams from all over the country.
Event organizer Leon Fell says while youth-outreach efforts like the free juniors clinic at the King of the Mountain are helping, the uptick in those attracted to beach volleyball in recent years is also due to the fact that colleges across the country are now offering scholarships to beach volleyball players.
“There’s over 40 schools now across the United States offering beach volleyball programs and scholarships,” Fell said. “Right now it’s (Junior Volleyball Association) sanctioned, but in 2017 it’s going to become a full-fledged NCAA Division I sport.”
FUN FOR ALL AGES
On the other end of the age spectrum — proving that volleyball can provide lifelong enjoyment — Highlands Ranch residents Ken Schlichtemeier, 82, and his wife, Maryann, 79, were at the Vail Athletic Fields on Friday, cheering on Vikki VanDuyne and her partner Nhu Nguyen, who we’re competing in the over-35 division.
The Schlichtemeiers said they used to play when they were younger.
“We used to play at the Y in Denver,” he said. “We did play outside, but there were no sand courts back then. Only blacktop.”
“We have the best fan base,” VanDuyne said after winning her match, amid applause from the Schlichtemeiers. “They gave us their energy.”
ON PACE TO BE EVEN BIGGER
Fell said while last year’s tournament was the largest in the event’s 41 years in Vail, bringing in a total of 615 two-person teams, this year’s 42nd edition is on pace to beat that record.
“We had 614 teams pre-register this year,” said Fell. “So we’re probably shooting for upwards of 650 this year with on-site registration.”
With the Ford Park fields being under construction this year, the athletic fields in Eagle-Vail will host a large part of the King of the Mountain action in 2014.
For Eagle-Vail residents and businesses, the change is a welcome one.
“We’re really excited to have all this action right here,” said Ollie Holdstock, owner of Route 6 Cafe in Eagle-Vail. “We’re serving food all day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and if you’re part of that tournament, just let us know and we can have pickup items ready for you to come grab and get right back out there.”
Fuxi Racing USA set up a tent at the athletic fields despite the fact the business is located just down the road in Eagle-Vail. Owner Franz “Fuxi” Fuchsberger said he wanted to be right there on site with a selection of brightly colored clothing and items to help with the sun, like hats, visors, zinc-oxide and sunscreen.
“Great event, great venue, great day. I love it!” Fuchsberger said.
The tournament continues through Sunday evening, with play taking place in Eagle-Vail and Vail. For more information on the tournament, visit www.kingofthe mountainvolleyball.com.