Merritt’s Volleyfest celebrates its 20th year
Merritt’s annual Volleyfest weekends are less than two months away. And with both events – the mixed April 13-15 and the ladies April 27-29 already nearly full, what better time to talk about this year’s 20th anniversary edition.
“We’re hoping to put on as good a show as we can,” states Merritt Volleyball Association executive member Dave Finch. “We’re trying to make sure that everyone who attends has a truly memorable time.”
For Doug Allen, one of the founding members of the MVA and Volleyfest, the memories are already aplenty.
“It all started back in 1992,” recalls Allen. “A small group of us, including Marilyn Long, Robert Hack and Rob Dunsmore, were frequently playing in volleyball tournaments out of town, and making really good friends in the process. We just decided that it would be a lot of fun if Merritt hosted an event.”
The creation of a formal volleyball association back in the early 90’s served a number of other purposes as well, added Allen.
“We wanted to promote and develop the sport in town, especially with the youth. Through our fundraising over the years, we were able to buy new equipment, build the sand courts at Central Park, and send promising youngsters to volleyball camps in the summer. We also established a pair of $1,000 scholarships to be awarded each year to deserving student-athletes in the community. That continues to this day.”
The two Volleyfest events began small, with just 6-8 teams at first, but quickly grew in both popularity and reputation.
“Right from the beginning, we wanted to really make them social events,” explains Allen, “where you came to compete but also have a really good time. Our Saturday night dinner and dance, complete with costumes, games and contests soon became pretty famous.”
According to Allen, a great deal of credit for Volleyfest’s popularity has to go to the early sponsors of the event – people like Rav Sandher at NMV Lumber, Dave Schaab at the Grassland’s Hotel and Dan Long of Tracker Sportswear.
“Their unqualified support made Volleyfest what it is today.”
Finch couldn’t agree more, stating that the event’s current long list of financial supporters is integral to the event’s continuing success.
“We really want to thank our sponsors – both past and present – for all that they’ve done over the years. Without our sponsor contributions, there is no way we could do it.”
A teacher at Coquihalla Middle School, Finch points to the over 450 free commemorative T-shirts handed out every year to every participant in Volleyfest as just one of the many things made possible by the event’s financial backers.
“These are treasures. They have every one of our sponsors’ names on the back, and our players just love getting them. There are many, many tournaments throughout the province every year, but I think that we’re the only one that provides a T-shirt for everybody that takes part. It’s pretty special.”
Finch is also excited about this year’s Volley-fest theme, which is “Superheroes and Villains”. He’s expecting some great costumes and accessories on both weekends.
With 34 or more teams, and over 200 players expected in town for each of the two Volleyfests, Finch says that the city of Merritt will be hopping.
“We have three gyms on the go – MSS, CMS and Collettville – and of course all the motels, hotels and restaurants are as busy as can be. We’re currently preparing an economic impact statement with respect to Volleyfest, and the number we’re coming up with is around $100,000 per event each year. There’s no doubt that a substantial amount of money is spent in our community.”
Teams for Volleyfest come from throughout the south-central Interior of B.C. and from the Lower Mainland. Both Allen and Finch say that many teams come year after year, making it an annual pilgrimage.
“We have teams and individual players who tell us that they incorporate Volleyfest into their holiday schedules. They just love coming.”