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June 27, 2008
By Alix Cirac
For the past 25 years, hundreds of teams have competed in the Volleyball Festival, the world’s largest annual women’s team sporting event. This year, from June 28 to July 3, 680 teams come to Reno from all over the country, Puerto Rico and Canada to compete. The ages of the participants range from 12 to 18.
Reno has hosted the event since 2004, and the University plays a crucial role in ensuring the festival’s success. The athletics, residential life and facilities departments all work to provide the organizers of the festival what they need.
“The relationship between the University and the festival has been absolutely ideal,” said Festival Co-Founder Dave Epperson. “We feel very good about the people we’ve worked with.”
Players arrive in Reno and on campus June 27. The University has offered up to 1,600 dorm rooms in Canada, Nye, Argenta, White Pine and Sierra halls to participants who want to visit the University.
The girls can learn a lot about the campus community in which they’re staying. “Be in the center of it all” are the words that adorn the lanyards that are handed out to these part-time residents. Residential Life and the Office for Prospective Students offer the girls tours of the campus and information about the University, according to Russ Meyer, associate director of housing operations and dining.
“Parents want their kids to have the experience of being on a college campus and that has worked out perfectly,” Epperson said.
The two largest, celebratory events of the festival take place at the University. An estimated 13,000 participants will attend the opening ceremony in Mackay Stadium on June 28 at 6 p.m., and Lawlor Events Center hosts the championship matches of the 15- through 18-year-old-age groups on July 2 starting at 1 p.m.
“The significance is that thousands of young people and their parents come to the campus,” Associate Athletic Director Keith Hackett said. “These events give them a chance to visit and gain access to the University.”
A positive image will be created for the visiting players and their families, according to Epperson.
“The people who come will be able to see all of the University,” he said. “They’ll be able to see the new Joe Crowley Student Union and the Knowledge Center, beautiful buildings that weren’t complete before.”
The opening ceremony theme is “Lights, Camera, Action—walk the red carpet to the 25th anniversary of the Volleyball Festival.” Participants dress in costume: some will reflect the theme (think movie stars) and some don’t (think Disney princesses, superheroes and Crayola crayons). Many costume ideas are repeated—hula girls and camouflaged Army soldiers are a perennial favorite.
The ceremony starts with the Grand March, during which the teams from each club will be introduced as they take a lap around Mackay Stadium. A $500 scholarship will be awarded to five Renaissance Girls who, according to Mary Paoli, communications manager at the Reno Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, invest in their families, schools and communities to develop their social, emotional, intellectual, vocational and moral selves.
Players from the Central Washington and Western Oregon softball teams will also be recognized for their outstanding sportsmanship during a game played earlier this year.
When competition begins June 29 at 8 a.m., girls will file out of the campus dorms and hotel rooms all over the city. They will pile into minivans that have “kiss my ace” or “honk if you love spandex” written on the sides. They’ll wear uniform tops and sweatpants or shorts. Many of them will have ribbons in their hair.
But don’t let the ribbons fool you. These girls are not prissy. They are serious and competitive. They have come to play, and they know they will win.
Most of them will head to the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, where there are 74 courts. A group of students and physicians from Nevada’s medical school will provide volunteer medical services alongside the sports trainers.
Reno Events Center and Grand Sierra Resort each hold 12 courts, and additional courts are located at Bishop Manogue High School.
More than 5,000 matches will take place over five days. After beating out hundreds of others, the top two teams in each age group Each team will compete in the championship matches at Lawlor Events Center on July 2.
Most of the festival participants will witness the championship battles. The level of play is as good as it gets. Many girls are already being recruited or have already signed with universities all over the country, including Nevada. Especially during the championship match for 18 year olds, the play is comparable to any NCAA Division I competition. This match will be televised by Fox Sports in mid-July, according to Epperson.
Festival organizers say the University and the city have provided the perfect setting and energy for the event. According to Epperson, the positive images of the University and of the city have been perpetuated by the Festival, and vice versa.
“We have a terrific time here,” Epperson said. “We’ve been treated royally by the people who have been working with us, and we can’t say enough about the energy of the people that have been involved in the Volleyball Festival.”