For most beachgoers, that involves catching some rays, going for a swim, tossing a Frisbee around or playing beach volleyball. Despite the popularity of the sport, there hasn’t been a beach volleyball tournament along the lakeshore in recent years, but that is all about to change.
After putting on a coaching clinic for four years, the members of West Michigan Beach Volleyball started their own tournament at the Grand Haven State Park last summer, and have extended to two separate tournaments this summer.
The first tournament begins Saturday at the Grand Haven State Park, followed by a tournament on the weekend of July 15, with a coaching clinic sandwiched between the two tournaments on July 10.
The masterminds behind the idea are Pete Goers and Stevo VanderWerp.
Goers was born and raised in Chicago, but was brought into the area when he decided to attend Hope College. It was his time at Hope that would ultimately steer him toward the game of volleyball.
“I had played volleyball in P.E. class in school or in the backyard with friends, but never anything seriously competitive,” said Goers. “I was planning on playing on the basketball team at Hope, but a couple of buddies talked me into trying out for volleyball. Once I did, I knew I was hooked and pretty quickly gave up on basketball. It was a club team back then, and it was comprised of a lot of people who had played in high school in Wisconsin. The upperclassmen were the coaches, and everyone involved was very helpful and knowledgeable about the game, so I learned from the best and really got off to a good start.”
After graduating in 1995, Goers moved to California to train and compete on the AVP circuit. He competed for two years on tour, and even represented the United States in the Pan Am Games in 1999, finishing seventh overall.
“In the mid ‘90s, a lot of people played beach volleyball at the state park in Holland on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” Goers added. “I ended up staying up here over the summer and playing. After I graduated, I played out in California. I had a lot of fun and met a lot of interesting people and had a lot of amazing experiences.
“Ultimately, though, I got away from what I wanted to do. The AVP circuit became more of a job than a passion. When your rent depended on how well you were doing in tournaments, it takes a lot of the fun out of it, and it turned into more of a grind that I would have liked.”
Goers’ professional career took a wild turn when his wife, Sheree, decided to sign up for a workshop.
“As I was living in California, most of the players on tour had a side gig to allow them to train during the day,” he added. “I delivered pizzas, I worked at the YMCA and I worked as a server at restaurants. My wife had planned on attending a workshop for teaching, because she wanted to become a teacher. I decided to go with her, and I’m happy I did, because I fell in love with it. I kind of backed into a teaching career, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it so far.”
Goers went back to school to get his teaching degree shortly after that, and began teaching third grade in California in 2000. Pete moved back to Michigan with his wife in 2003 and now teaches fourth grade in Zeeland. He lives in Grand Haven with his wife, Sheree, daughters, Laney, Colette and Ellie and son, Jude.
It was Goers’ passion for both teaching and volleyball that pushed him to help create what is now a popular destination for young volleyball players each summer.
“We’ve had elementary school kids at our clinics for four years, and we wanted to have a next step for them,” Goers said of his decision to start a tournament. “I’ve been playing in beach volleyball tournaments in Grand Haven for 20 years, but, for the last few years, we haven’t had any tournaments around. Stevo and I decided it would be a sin for us not to have some tournaments around here, especially with all the local interest in the sport.”
In its first installment, the West Michigan Beach Volleyball Tournament drew a strong crowd out to the beach. Now, Goers and VanderWerp hope the new step can be taken.
“The turnout was pretty good last year,” Goers added. “We didn’t know what to expect, so the expectations were pretty low. We ended up with 75 teams, and had a pretty strong showing as far as spectators, as well. So, I think it was a success the first time around.
“This year, we’d like to continue to grow numbers-wise, but we want the juniors division to be the biggest division out there. Between our age 12-and-under groups to our age 18-and-under groups, we should have a lot of participants. We’ve also partnered with a few local high school teams in order to give back to the community and help grow an awareness for new opportunities that beach volleyball can create at the college level.”
Those opportunities are in the form of a two- or four-year college scholarship to play beach volleyball at various universities across the United States.
While most of the schools that offer scholarships for beach volleyball are located on the West Coast or Southeast corners of the country, Principia College in Elsah, Illinois, is one midwestern school that offers a four-year varsity program. There are also schools in Maryland and Tennessee that have adopted the growing sport, which shows the potential for what the sport may eventually grow into.
“The fact that this sport can now help kids get college scholarships is incredible,” Goers said. “You see a lot of talented high school volleyball players getting cut from bigger schools, and then they give up on the sport. Beach volleyball can become a new option for kids, and we’re hoping putting on these clinics and tournaments will help create some passion for the sport in the younger age groups.”
Goers’ passion for the sport comes from the fact that it isn’t an individual sport, but a sport that demands team chemistry, teamwork and positive reinforcement.
“It’s a team sport in nature,” he added. “You can’t even hit the ball twice in a row, so you really have to work with others in order to be successful at it. I’ve played soccer and basketball, and I love those sports, but with volleyball, you have to corroborate with others and work as a team every step of the way.
“Beach volleyball is just you and one other person, so it’s even more critical that you establish a good connection with your teammate. I’ve been paired with people before who haven’t been very supportive. It starts to feel like it's 3-on-1 out there, and that’s never fun. So, we teach at an early age that it’s important to be supportive and encouraging and be a positive influence with people you play with.”
Goers hasn’t had any problem playing alongside Stevo VanderWerp, a Grand Haven native. VanderWerp graduated from Western Michigan Christian High School in 2008, and began playing volleyball at the age of four and decided to pursue beach volleyball at the highest level at the age of 15.
In 2009, he was one of only four athletes chosen to represent the United States at the U-21 World Championships in Blackpool, England. He’s currently pursuing a spot on the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour.
Goers and VanderWerp will be joining in on the action this weekend, beginning Saturday at 9 a.m. with check-in scheduled for 8:30 a.m.
For more information on West Michigan Beach Volleyball and their upcoming tournaments and clinics, visit www.wmbeachvolleyball.com or visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/wmbeachvolleyball/
West Michigan Beach Volleyball Tournament
At the Grand Haven State Park
Men’s and Women’s Doubles
Men's and Women's AA/Open - $80 per team
Men's and Women's doubles A - $60 per team
Men's and Women's doubles B - $50 per team
Juniors doubles- 12, 14, 16, 18's - $40 per team
Itty Bitty Spiker tournament - 10 a.m. to noon
Check-In: 9-9:30 a.m.
Start Time: 10 a.m.
AA/Open, A, or B - $50 per team