Volleyball evangelist spreading a love for the game | VailDaily.com

Volleyball evangelist spreading a love for the game

John LaConte
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
John LaConte | Special to the Daily

VAIL, Colorado – The King of the Mountain tournament is drawing thousands of volleyball participants, spectators and enthusiasts to the valley this weekend.

Among them is USA Volleyball’s director of sport development, John Kessel. Kessel has been all over the world and to all 50 states promoting volleyball, but the King of the Mountain is his favorite tournament.

The reason?

The beautiful mountain backdrop helps, but the main thing Kessel finds so appealing about King of the Mountain is the father/daughter and father/son element of the tournament.

“King of the Mountain embraces family better than any other tournament. … At the International Symposium for Sport and Education, I recommended countries start doing a father/son, father/daughter tournament like King of the Mountain, and Europe said ‘We should do that next year,'” said Kessel, adding that other states in the U.S. are already hosting similar tournaments based on the King of the Mountain format. “In Arizona, it’s 106 degrees, but they’re still doing it. They play at night, and they only play to 15, but everyone is still out there. It becomes that special of an event for families.”

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Kessel, a father himself who plays alongside his kids in Vail every year, said when fathers play with their kids it has several effects. When parents who already play join their younger children, it helps the kids foster a love of the game. But conversely, when kids who already play get Dad out to join them, it gives him a chance to see just how challenging it can be out there.

“Then when his daughter misses a shot or something, Dad knows how hard it actually is to perform that move out there,” Kessel said. “Kids have gone from watching their parents play to the parents now watching the kids play. … On Sunday, you’re not just watching; you’re playing with each other.”

Other seemingly routine aspects of the tournament also contribute to its success. There are not a lot of tournaments running where participants can pick their own partner, uniform, music and side of the court they’re playing on. And the venue itself it also pretty spectacular.

“The game of volleyball has been played at some pretty special places,” Kessel said, citing FIVB World Tour events at the Eiffel Tower and the Brandenburg Gates as examples. “But those venues cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to set up. Here, it’s also an incredible venue, and it doesn’t cost anything to set up except the reuse of the nets.”

Kessel’s daughter, McKenzie Kessel, is also playing in the junior tournament at King of the Mountain this weekend alongside her playing partner and long-time friend Tammy King, of Colorado Springs. Kessel said the appreciation for the sport, and the opportunity to play together, helps friends like McKenzie and King stay close.

King agreed.

“We’ve played club volleyball together since we were 12,” King said. “We didn’t play together in high school and our colleges are pretty far away from each other, but we get to play together this weekend.”

Kessel compares volleyball to skiing, snowboarding and tennis, sports he calls “lifetime sports.” On Friday, he hosted a youth clinic for kids hoping to improve their skills on the court. He said one of the main messages he tried to get out to kids 13 and older was the fact that they’re going to be playing on the same net for the next 52 years of their lives.

“Only when you’re 65 do they lower it 2 inches,” he said.

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