Long live the King of the Mountain
Strolling around the Vail athletic fields this weekend, you’ll find a man who looks like he was born to play volleyball.
Monty McBride helped found the King of the Mountain tournament 39 years ago, when both he and Vail were young. In 1973, 12 teams played on a couple of freshly built courts at the bottom of Golden Peak.
This weekend’s 39th edition boasts around 500 teams.
When we caught up with him, McBride had just finished teaching a clinic for dozens of kids. He’s still as passionate as one of them when it comes to volleyball.
“It’s fun to see something you helped start grow like this,” McBride said. “It’s been wonderful for me. There’s so much camaraderie and history.”
This year’s King of the Mountain field boasts Olympians, collegiate athletes and coaches and elite high school players.
McBride knows great players when he sees them or plays with and against them.
He plays on a team called The Legends. They’ve won the world tournament three times. McBride just won the U.S. Open. He has about 20 gold medals and more silvers than he can count.
A guy he played with, John Stanley, has a son, Clay, who plays on the U.S. team. He played with Butch May for 12 years. May’s daughter, Misty May, won two Olympic gold medals on the beach.
McBride started playing volleyball in northern California. He was working in Chuck’s Steakhouse when a prominent professional basketball player asked if he wanted to watch some beach volleyball.
No, replied McBride, he did not.
But what if that basketball player provided McBride a beach chair and a cooler of frosty cold beverages and surrounded him with athletic, bikini-clad women?
Well, everything is a matter of the proper motivation.
He wandered over to the beach and saw people he’d played basketball against, waiters who worked for him at Chuck’s who asked for every other weekend off. All kinds of people.
“I sat there in awe for two days, and I was hooked,” McBride said.
His first tournament was in Manhattan Beach, one of the biggest in the nation. He won two matches, to his great surprise.
On California beaches, they play winners courts. If you win, you keep your court. If you lose, you start again at the bottom and you won’t play again for three hours.
“It’s a tough sport,” he said.
He moved to Denver, where he helped start a national championship program at the Denver Athletic Club, and then to Vail to ski. He started some local volleyball programs for adults, and high school players showed up.
Colorado girls play high school volleyball, and it’s catching on with boys, McBride said.
Two Colorado boys playing this weekend will play in the USA Volleyball/FIVB High Performance Beach Championships in Hermosa Beach, Calif., in July. Trevor Burr, 16, of Littleton, and Mitch Decker, 14, of Parker, attended the USA Volleyball Beach High Performance tryouts in early June.
Both boys cut their beach teeth playing in local beach tournaments, such as King of the Mountain, from an early age.
They’re here because McBride and dozens of others like him are passionate about their sport.
In the early 1970s, McBride asked Charlie Penwill, the recreation director at the time, if they could build some sand volleyball courts. They put them at the bottom of Golden Peak, and before you could say “side out,” they invited people up for a tournament.
The King of the Mountain was coronated.
“The town, the businesses and Vail Resorts have always been behind everyone who has run this tournament,” McBride said.
McBride will be 70 next year, and he’s still playing. You’ll find him on Tuesdays and Fridays, playing against people 30 years younger than him.
He jokes that covered wagons used to stop to watch when he started.
“The sport itself has developed way beyond what we were doing back then,” McBride said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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