West Michigan getting a beach volleyball gold rush

Matt DeYoung • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:23 AM

Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser, who won the gold at the 2008 summer Olympic Games in Beijing, will be joined by Kerri Walsh, a two-time Olympic gold medalist.

Rogers and Dalhausser will be in town on Wednesday, when they’ll spend time with the Grand Valley State University volleyball team. On Thursday and Friday, the gold medalists will spend time at a local hospital, visiting sick children; will run clinics with high school and junior high kids; and will share their time with various media outlets around West Michigan.

On Saturday morning, Walsh, Rogers and Dalhausser will visit area club volleyball teams.

The main event takes place Saturday evening at the DeltaPlex. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and the action heats up at 7 p.m.

In addition to the gold medalists, Grand Haven’s Stevo VanderWerp will be playing Saturday evening, along with Brooke Hanson, Evan Engle, Kathryn Babcock and Christal Engle.

Rogers said he was adamant that the format for his visit to West Michigan be stretched out over several days in order to allow for more activities within the community.

“One of the big things for me is, we’ve got to go into a city and take care of that city,” said Rogers, who lives in Solvang, Calif. “The AVP used to come in like rock stars, a flash in the pan, do their gig and flash out. We felt like we were doing a disservice to the local community. You’ve got to give back, you’ve got to be there for a couple days, do some charity work, get to meet people.

“When Scott (VanderWerp) and I started to hash this all out, I told him my vision, and he agreed. That’s why we’re coming in on Wednesday and leaving on Sunday.”

Rogers said he and Dalhausser do a similar type of exhibition each year in Brazil, and would love come up with a more consistent way to promote beach volleyball on American soil.

“It’s very important, because right now, the sport is West Coast dominated, and really Southern California dominated,” Rogers said. “You have little enclaves in Florida, South Carolina, New Jersey, maybe Chicago, and then really in the Grand Haven-Muskegon area.

“Being involved in the beach community, that’s something we have to continue to cultivate, to push forward, to get more interest growing in the sport, and working with the juniors, particularly. Beach volleyball is becoming an NCAA sport, so it’s important that these girls see some of the top players, get some instruction from some of the top players.”

That’s why Rogers is excited to see players like Stevo VanderWerp competing Saturday night.

“Stevo’s a great example of a local boy done good,” Rogers said. “He’s gone from being a junior player all the way up to now he has a top 36 ranking, and he just keeps going.”

Cost for Saturday’s Winter Beach Bash is $20 for general admission and $50 for reserved courtside. Kids who are members of a volleyball team pay $15, and parking at the DeltaPlex is free.

“We’re trying to make it an affordable, fun night,” event promoter Scott VanderWerp said. “The kids can rub shoulders with hopefully a three-time and two two-time gold medalists, going into this Olympic year.”

Whenever they’re not on the sand court, the players will be in booths signing autographs.

“All these people are great role models, and that’s really what’s key to me,” Scott VanderWerp said. “Parents will be impressed with how approachable, how accessible these people are for the kids.

“We’re so excited to have these players come in.”

Rogers said that everything he and Dalhausser do this year is in preparation for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, which kick off on July 27 in London.

“That is our primary focus,” Rogers said. “Everything we do is geared toward that. In 2009, when we made the commitment to play with each other through the next Olympics, that’s when everything started to go toward that.

“It’s getting close now. When I talk to someone, it’s like, ‘It’s only six months out. Oh my gosh, it’s less than six months now, it’s five and a half months to the opening ceremonies. It’s right around the corner.’”

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