A few years ago, the AVP and Volley America merged, creating AVP America. Under this umbrella, the AVP has incorporated events around the country into a developmental circuit. They’ve helped build up existing tournaments and organizations by working with each promoter to improve events – from increasing prize purses to updating equipment to allotting coveted AVP points. With this help, AVP America has provided much-needed structure and cohesion to the beach volleyball world.
Katie Spieler wrote an excellent piece last year about the positive impact and potential of AVP America and its leadership – Carly and Wayne Gant – who started Volley America along with Rich Heiles of East End Volleyball. With the prestigious arm of the AVP behind them, AVP America has unified the sport and provided a clearer pipeline to the AVP Beach Tour and the new AVP Grass Tour.
AVP America united the outdoor volleyball world. They’ve teamed up with tons of events and organizations, from the 180-court Seaside event in Oregon to Weekend Warrior events in the Midwest. While still embracing each iconic event’s local charm and decades-long traditions, they added structure and pathways for potential pros, down to recreational players.
Under the AVP umbrella, events like Seaside and Atlantic City Big Shots now award all-important AVP points and substantial prize purses, bringing big names in and providing competitors with better seeding in future AVP Qualifiers. These tournaments turned into stepping stones to the big leagues without losing the chance for locals and volley diehards to experience the game.
And now, AVP America is doing the same for Grass Volleyball.
I talked with Carly Gant and AVP’s Senior Director of Programming Jeff Conover about introducing grass volleyball to the AVP world. They’re both excited about the sport’s future and glad that the AVP will have its hand in forming it.
“I like the vibe of grass volleyball. It has a very homey feel for me and isn’t stuffy,” Carly says. “People are talking trash but having so much fun. It’s like old-school volleyball.” This adulation pushed Carly to bring some light to the grass volleyball world and introduce it, formally into the AVP family.
“We wanted to highlight the entire sport of volleyball,” Carly says, “as opposed to just the sand. Grass volleyball is not a new thing by any means. The Pottstown Rumble is in its 30th year and The Clash is in its 32nd year. These organizers had the foresight to know what would work in their volley communities. The majority of our country doesn’t have access to sand courts or beaches. If someone wants to play volleyball in this country, we want to be able to help deliver that for them to the best of our ability.”
Of course, Carly is right. And because most people don’t have access to sand but they want to play outdoor volleyball, there is a huge network of grass players. Pennsylvania has a thriving community of grass players and tournaments like The Smash and The Pottstown Rumble in Pennsylvania (which has an impressive 208 courts of grass action). The Waupaca Boatride has over 300 beach and grass courts, not to mention fields of volleyball players camping out for the weekend. Waupaca is like the Bonaroo of volleyball. There’s a little bit of something for everyone- beach, grass, spectating, drinking – all ending around a campfire under the stars.
“It’s always been a focus for me,” Carly says, “because I knew that there was a big market of grass players that were Weekend Warriors playing for fun and a circuit of high-level grass players that are amazing athletes. I want to help provide them all with as much opportunity as possible.”
Now, those players have something to work towards, and it doesn’t have to be a career on the AVP Beach Tour. “We’re trying to aggregate more of the high-level grass events throughout the country,” Jeff Conover says, “and put them all into a series so that it feels more structured. As we grow, maybe these bigger events will build towards and feed into our National Championships at the end of the year – eventually awarding bids, people will travel around and chase these opportunities and have more and more prize money. Hopefully, they’ll have more of a look and feel as the Beach Pro Tour stops one day.”
“A big part of our membership base is heavily involved in the grass world,” Jeff continues. “Especially this year when all the beaches were shut down, the grass continued to live. So we just want to provide a product for our AVP members and also help enhance some of the larger events that we’ve now partnered with to continue their event’s success.”
Though the AVP is partnering with these events to better them, the autonomy of each event producer remains intact. There are different rules for different tournaments. Court sizes and scoring varies. Games are played with two, three, four, and six players. And each organizer gets to keep their rules and structure.
“You have to give credit where credit is due,” Carly says. “Some of my favorite people built these incredible events. We’re not coming in to say, ‘Hey, you need to play by these rules.’ We’re just trying to bring cohesion, to put all of these awesome tournaments in one circuit to provide more structure to the sport.”
Ultimately, The AVP Grass Tour is about the athletes – offering them more prize money and a ranking system with points, so there’s something to work toward. The Tour is between May and October, starting with The Clash in South Carolina and ending with Grass Nationals. It’ll be fun this year to see which pros go to each event, especially before the AVP beach season starts. And it’ll be even more fun to see which entry-level pros have a breakout season and make a name on the brand new AVP Grass Tour.