Greg Delgado: The (Previously) Unsung MVP of the AVP: Part II

A couple of weeks ago, we got to know Greg Delgado   – a volleyball lover who lives right in the heart of the sport. But Greg doesn’t just appreciate the game; he adores the AVP athletes, too. 

In 2017, Greg and Lori lent their Hermosa Beach Strand house to Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb as a place to hang out between matches during the Hermosa Open – a tournament they went on to win. He was the “intern” for Jeremy Casebeer and Chaim Schalk when they got their first win in Seattle in 2018. And he watched the entire 2020 Champions Cup Series courtside as a ball boy. Greg’s passion for the game and respect for the players drove him to play a crucial role in the 2020 AVP season. 

This year, before Greg worked as a ball boy every day of the Champions Cup Series, he basically saved the tournament. I’d heard of what Greg did from grateful AVP athletes over the past few months, but I’d never heard Greg’s side. He told Mark Schuermann and me the story over coffee in his living room one morning (don’t worry; we were at least ten feet apart). The gist – Greg pulled off a real Christmas in July miracle. 

Right before the Champions Cup Series began, Hermosa and Manhattan Beach cracked down on volleyball restrictions. At the onset of COVID-19 and the Stay-at-Home Orders, all nets were removed from public courts. Teams spent 2020 lugging their own nets, lines, antennas, and balls to each practice. We managed to practice safely and without reprimand until a few weeks before the Champions Cup Series began. 

With an uptick in cases, public safety regulations increased and teams began receiving tickets for practicing. All of the athletes were expecting to train in Hermosa and Manhattan, even the out-of-towners. Barring a private court, there was nowhere to practice before the year’s only tournaments.

Things looked dire. “Seventy-two top volleyball players in this country flew to the South Bay to play in the tournaments,” Greg says. “A week before the first tournament, with the new restriction, there was nowhere to play.” All of the athletes tested negative and were training for a professional event, but the authorities didn’t know that. 

Enter Greg and his buddies. A small coalition – Greg, AVP legend Mark Paaluhi, Hermosa Beach volleyball staple Chris Brown, and AVP’s own Mark Burik – went to the Hermosa Beach City Council with an idea. Greg would regulate the four courts in front of his house, schedule the Covid-negative athletes, set up the nets himself, and discourage crowds. “This is the home of beach volleyball,” Greg says. “All these top players are ready to practice. They’ve got no place to go, but we have four courts right here. We wrote this protocol and said we’d all live by it. No crowds; only doubles; coaches have to wear masks. If you have a photographer or another person, they have to wear a mask. And the city said yes.”

Word spread like wildfire among the AVP family that an angel had saved practice. Greg received countless texts from basically every team in the Series asking for court reservations. Greg fielded the text requests and monitored scheduling on an Excel spreadsheet. Every day, he’d type and print timetables and tape them onto the poles at each court. “I’d say about 80% of the Champions’ Cup athletes were practicing on his courts during the Series,” Maddison McKibbin says.

This was Greg’s morning schedule: Wake up at 6 am. Save four courts by putting bags of balls or chairs on them. Set the nets at the appropriate height, tape the printed schedule onto one pole of each court. Return home to put a pot of coffee on for the first round of practices. “It happened overnight, and it happened straight for four weeks,” Greg says. “This became the hub for all those players because they had nowhere else to go.” 

The kindness in Greg’s actions was more than just providing a place to train. The care he put into it, the attention to detail, and respect for the athletes’ training schedules were so needed. And rare. Walking up to a court that’s saved for you with a net up and lines down is a luxury in our world. The fact that Greg did this day in and out for four weeks for every single athlete that texted him… it’s just astounding.  

But he’ll tell you he had his selfish reasons. He respects the athletes and knew they deserved a practice spot. But he also got to watch a mini-AVP on his porch every morning. “I love sitting on my deck, having a cup of coffee, and watching this amazing volleyball,” he says. Talk about VIP; Greg and his wife Lori had courtside seats every morning. 

“I can’t think of a more fun thing,” he says. “My work really was from 6:00 am to 6:10 am. I’d put balls on the courts and set them up. That’s really all it was; it was nothing. And I made little index cards with the schedules. Miles Partain, a teenager and the youngest star on the AVP, was so excited. He said, ‘Look! There’s my name on the pole!’ He’s such a good guy. That comment made it all worthwhile.”

Greg says, “I did it for selfish reasons, and I didn’t expect anything.” But his impact was felt in a big way, and the gifts poured in from grateful AVP family members. In the last week, he received bottles of top-shelf tequila and whisky, several more bottles of wine, new Porsche sunglasses; and homemade muffins. Kevin Barnett, who’d taken an interest in the courts and came down to watch a few times, made him a cutting board with a wood-burned volleyball net and an “Undisclosed Location” moniker, a term he used on the Champions Cup Amazon Prime broadcast. “Are you kidding me? I’m doing this because I want to watch you play, and you’re all giving me presents.” 

And then came the big gift. 

Monday after the Porsche Cup, Phil Dalhauser and Nick Lucena were set to fly home to Florida. Of course, they won two tournaments, finished second in another, and earned the coveted Champions Cup. Which means they had eight trophies in total. “So I see Nick and his entourage walking down The Strand,” Greg says “and he’s got his trophy. And I see him and think – Aw… that’s kinda cool, I wonder where he is headed. 

“And Nick comes right here, to my house, and says, ‘I got your trophy for ya.'” 

At this point in his story, Greg goes to another room and brings back the Champions Cup for Mark and me to see. “And I go, ‘What? No… come on.'” Greg spins the trophy. 

“And Nick says, ‘Yeah. It’s got your name on it.'” There on the trophy, scrawled in Sharpie, is: Thanks for everything Greg. And next to that – Phil and Nick’s autographs. 

“It’s unbelievable,” Greg says. “It’s crazy. These are my idols, and they just gave me their Championship Trophy.” Greg was simply beaming by this point in the story. He was barely able to contain his excitement and pride as Mark snapped a picture of him cheesin’ with the trophy. 

“I was just doing this to have fun,” he says. “But the players are just that approachable and nice. It’s made the experience unbelievable.”

Greg’s influence on the 2020 season cannot be understated. And Lori’s, too, for putting up with his early mornings and constant activity on her porch (though she’s just as delightful and easygoing as Greg). I honestly don’t know what the athletes would have done without them. 

After the AVP, Greg continued scheduling and setting nets. Mark Paaluhi has organized a few women’s mini-tournaments at the courts, and the McKibbins put on a successful fours tournament. Greg pivoted and now only saves two of the five courts Monday-Friday, so the locals have a chance to play. He says he’ll continue doing this as long as the athletes text him. “People may go back to their courts. But if there’s a need, I’ll definitely continue.” 

I’ll venture to say that Greg’s going to have this job as long as he’s willing. The assuredness of a court, net and lines set, and a community of AVP athletes playing on the court next to you? Sign me up. 

Literally – Greg, I’ll take 8 am Monday morning, please.