JUNE 6, 2022 - MUSKEGON, MI - The initial reason the township supervisor of Lowell, Michigan paid a visit to the overly active home of Bill Genovich was a singular one: Shut down the mom and pop style beach volleyball operation happening in Genovich’s backyard.
What had begun as a handful of kids playing beach volleyball in Genovich’s private court exploded, in the blink of an eye, into a 300-plus kid operation.
“It went from 20 to almost 300 that summer,” Genovich said of the summer of 2020. “I was just doing it in my backyard court. I’d have four or five kids at a time, and it was great, really. I didn’t think it was going to be much more than that.”
We all know what happened that summer: COVID hit. Gyms were shut down. And when you shut down gyms in Big 10 country, where volleyball viewership and participation are at their highest in the United States, the appetite for the sport doesn’t wan – only the locations in which to play it. Genovich’s backyard was one of the few havens in which volleyball-starved athletes could still get a few reps in. When the township supervisor caught wind of the pop-up beach volleyball club in Genovich’s backyard, he knew he had to shut it down. Individuals could run businesses out of their homes, yes, but they couldn’t do it out in the open.
But he’s a good man, that supervisor. He saw the hundreds of kids reaping the benefits of what Genovich was doing. He saw them exercising. Getting fresh air. Socializing. Building community. Could he really shut that down?
“We kept talking and talking, and he decided that I could help him build a court or two at one of the parks,” Genovich recalled. “And that’s how we ended up at eight courts and built T.A.G. Beach. It turned out from him coming down to shut me down and we ended up talking, and he said ‘Honestly, it takes me a while to write letters, and I have to write you a letter before we can shut you down, and I see all these kids out here and active, and they’re all cooped up right now, you’re doing a good thing. How long would it take you to build some courts for us?’
“That’s how we came up with T.A.G. Beach. He came out and I said ‘Hey, do you want me to call parents? Send everyone home? You let me know what you want me to do.’ As we continued the conversation, he came around to: ‘Nope, these kids are having fun and they’re outside.’”
And just like that, the state of Michigan had beach volleyball again.
Next weekend, there might be more beach volleyball being played in Michigan, in Muskegon, roughly an hour’s drive from Genovich’s eight-court T.A.G. Beach, than ever before. There will be the first Tour Series stop of the AVP’s 2022 season, as well as the second AVP Junior Tour stop, a three-star held at the same time as the professionals.
“Honestly, when I started eight or nine years ago, youth tournaments would have four or five teams in each division,” Genovich said. “That’s all they’d get.”
Now? It’ll take you a few moments to scroll the entirety of the entry lists for the upcoming tournaments. Already, 58 teams are signed up for the AVP Tour Series for the men, 42 for the women, and 13 for the youth in the area.
“I’ve been promoting: Get out in Muskegon, play,” Genovich said. “All the kids.”
It can be an uphill battle, to convert the indoor types onto the beach, particularly in an indoor-centric area such as Michigan. Genovich estimates that there are 50,000 kids aged high school and younger who play volleyball, but only a few thousand who play on the beach. That ratio is quickly shifting, thanks in part to the pandemic, but also thanks to the community being built both by Genovich, the AVP, and AVPAmerica, all of whom are making an impact.
“I ran a 12U tournament after school ball started in the fall last year and I had 24 12U teams in that tournament,” Genovich said. “There are tournaments where they’ll get four or five 12U teams, but they’ll get a lot in the 14, 16, 18U. I just decided I want to grow it from the elementary, the middle school level, and get these kids climbing up.”
That begins next weekend, with the AVP Junior Tour.
~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew