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Sneaky Spike or Just Interference?

vollyballLocal volleyball players worry out-of-towners are pushing them off Main Beach

Main Beach in Santa Cruz is a hotbed of activity for locals and visitors alike. Sandwiched between the iconic wharf and the Boardwalk, the large stretch of shore is a magnet for beachgoers and the setting is ideal for free Friday night concerts and many a Santa Cruz child’s birthday party.

With 16 world-class volleyball courts, the beach is also home base for Santa Cruz’s booming beach volleyball community. The sport—second only to soccer in world popularity—snowballed into something of a local movement after former California Beach Volleyball Association (CBVA) Director Gustav Gysin spearheaded the effort to establish the Main Beach facility in 1983.

“Other than pro sites, there’s nothing like it anywhere,” says Phil Kaplan, founder of Santa Cruz-based Kaplan Volleyball. “[And] it was all built by the Santa Cruz community.”

With such a desirable facility, it was only a matter of time before the hawks began to circle. This summer, an out-of-town organization, the Northern California Volleyball Association (NCVA), made itself comfortable on the courts, too—reserving every open weekend date from June to the end of August for NCVA tournaments. With few days left for public use throughout those months, local players are worried they are getting pushed off their own beach.

“The NCVA saw this amazing facility and I know they started seeing dollar signs,” says Kaplan of the San Francisco-based volleyball organization, which services Northern California and Northern Nevada. “They came in and absorbed every open date on the schedule and reserved it.”

Since founding Kaplan Volleyball in 1978, Kaplan’s name has become synonymous with volleyball in Santa Cruz. Along with others like CBVA organizer Mark Hull, he has become a local leader in the sport, teaching classes through Cabrillo College and the City of Santa Cruz Department of Parks and Recreation, and organizing the popular No Attitudes Allowed beach volleyball tournaments. As his tournament title suggests, Kaplan maintains a positive, no-drama philosophy when it comes to the game—a credo the entire Main Beach crew has adopted.

Court caretaker Rowland Morin, who, according to Kaplan is “95 percent of the reason Main Beach is a world-class facility today,” regards the courts as a haven of volleyball harmony – a place where anyone and everyone, including tourists, can come to play. “At any time there will be students from UCSC and Cabrillo, beginners, experts, young [and] old, women and men, locals and visitors—all having a good time and enjoying the game,” Morin writes in an e-mail.

The problem with the infiltration of the NCVA isn’t that they are out-of-towners, per se, but that they are taking court time away from the people who uphold the courts.

“This is a public facility that is mostly supported with private donations,” says Morin. “A very high percent of these donations come from people who play beach volleyball, but do not play in tournaments … the weekend is an important time for the public to have access to play.”

Local or not, tournaments mean less time for public use.

“They are trying to bring in an out of town group of people, with an out of town organization, and [are] using the facility without contributing,” says Kaplan. “I don’t want to get into this thing of localism versus out of towners, but that is what has happened.”

Players have rallied out of concern, complaining to the Parks and Recreation Department (which oversees the use of the courts) and even starting a prolific discussion forum on Kaplan’s Web site, scvolleyball.org.

“We essentially lost Main Beach to Saturday and Sunday tournaments,” writes Bill Head in a July 16 post to the site. “[It’s] not a suitable scenario on many levels — we need to affect a change in policy and take back Main Beach for public use!”

One of the most popular proposals expressed to the city and in the forum is to limit tournaments to one day per weekend, leaving the other free to all. Representatives from both the No Attitudes Allowed and the CBVA have said this arrangement would work for them.

There is one benefit to allowing the NCVA to hold almost weekly tournaments: revenue. Unreserved courts are free to play on, but it costs between $4 and $6 per hour, per court to reserve the courts for a tournament. In addition, the participants spend money in the surrounding area, in parking meters and at restaurants, for example. The reservation costs may seem like chump change, but for a city as revenue-deprived as ours, it is a welcomed sum. There have also been proposals to increase the NCVA’s rental fee to a higher, commercial rate. Players hope that the city will find a way to continue the earnings, while freeing the courts to the public.

The NCVA has made it clear that their tournaments are open to anyone willing to join the organization—although few Santa Cruz players have jumped at the offer.

Jillian Bivert, co-ordinator of beach/sand events for the NCVA, responded to the grievances on Kaplan’s forum, saying that “The NCVA has been running sand tournaments in Santa Cruz for several years; we have not been aware of these issues and have no intention of stepping on anyone’s toes. We have always had a great working relationship with the City of Santa Cruz and at no time have had any problems with the ‘locals’ of Santa Cruz during our tournaments.”

The city has agreed not to reserve any courts for 2010 until a “fair solution” can be reached.

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