CHAPEL HILL — May the sand be between your toes, the sun on your face and a volleyball always at your fingertips.
Three new sand courts at Umstead Park in Chapel Hill are the answer to many local sand volleyball enthusiasts’ prayers, said Carrboro High School volleyball coach Steve Scanga. Volunteers paid for them and built them, but everyone is welcome to use them, he said.
About 70 people raised $17,000 earlier this year for the $25,000 project. They also applied for grants, including $3,500 from USA Volleyball.
“They were willing to say we want this, and I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is,” Scanga said.
About 15 volunteers, and a couple of curious neighbors, spent a few months building three timber frames. They filled them with six truckloads of gravel and topped it off with several loads of beach sand. The final load went in last week after Scanga raked off mud and silt deposited by recent floodwaters. The resulting court is 8 to 12 inches deep.
Chapel Hill has agreed to add more sand or new nets every couple of years, but it shouldn’t require a lot of upkeep, Scanga said. The town’s Parks and Recreation Department paid $3,000 to add adjustable metal poles and nets. Director Butch Kisiah said the town also will build three more courts.
“We were motivated because we knew there weren’t a lot of opportunities to play,” Scanga said.
While Carrboro has sand courts at Anderson Community Park, they are run down and the sand is inadequate, he said. His 11-member Carrboro High School team practices in Cary, at some of the Triangle’s closest and busiest sand volleyball courts, he said. Raleigh also three courts with open play times.
The new Umstead courts could be the opportunity that Chapel Hill and East Chapel Hill high schools have been waiting for to start their own teams, he said. In fact, the courts could give all Orange County teens the opportunity to play and be a great place to hold tournaments, he said. A league could be established later this summer, he said.
Lynn Tomkins, a self-described “volley mom,” volunteered her family to help, largely because her daughter Anna plays on Carrboro’s team. She and Anna also belong to a mother-daughter club team, she said. It’s a new sport for Tomkins, whose native United Kingdom is just catching on to sand volleyball.
“(The courts have) been a real community project,” she said. “It was fun.”
Sand volleyball is more active than traditional volleyball, because there are only four people on the court. It’s a great way to have fun and stay in shape, Scanga said.
“You may or may not win, but you’ll have a great time,” he said. “It’s a little more friendly.”
The modern game started on the beaches of Santa Monica, Calif., in the 1930s and quickly spread to Europe. It would be 40 years before the sport made its way east across the United States. The first network coverage of professional play came in 1986 on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.”
Scanga also is the director of Blue Sky Volleyball, a group that organizes Triangle beach volleyball tournaments. About 80 teams participate, and there is a waiting list, he said.
Interest in the sport also is growing among high school and college students, he said.
The American Volleyball Coaches Association said four-year colleges and universities are adding 15 to 20 varsity programs a year; there are 30 now. If it continues to grow at that rate, the sport could be eligible for NCAA championship sport status in 2014.