Chaos Beach Volleyball: The Florida Kid Who Made Beach Happen in Ohio
The first time Corey Robertson played indoor volleyball, he peeled off the net and nearly knocked over his libero. This was, not coincidentally, one of the last times Corey Robertson played indoor volleyball.
Forgive him, though. He was a Florida kid. Raised in Clearwater on all things warm weather – skateboarder, wind surfer, football player – he didn’t know indoor volleyball was a thing for guys until he wound up moving to Columbus, Ohio, 20 some years ago.
“Why would guys play indoor volleyball?” he wondered. “I had no idea.”
He had no idea because, frankly, why would be? Clearwater is, traditionally, one of the biggest beach volleyball communities in the U.S. It has hosted 19 professional tournaments, including AVPs from 1984, in its inaugural season as its own tour, until 1999, prior to major financial setbacks and a number of ownership changes. From the moment Robertson discovered beach volleyball, around age 14, “everything else came to a screeching halt because all I wanted to do,” he said. “You name it, we were playing in it.”
A bit too much, actually. As it goes when players fall hard for any sport, Robertson’s body pushed back. He tore the meniscus in both knees, and when he met a girl and moved to Columbus, Ohio, the doctor told him if he didn’t sit out for a bit, his beach volleyball expiration date would be expedited. He figured he’d sit a year. Let the knee rest. Relax. Focus on other things. Then he’d head back to Florida. Back to the beach.
Then life, as it is wont to do, made other plans. What Robertson found was something that the Florida version of himself would have been shocked by: He fell in love with this snowy place and the people inhabiting it.
“We met some amazing people, and there was a lot of early beach volleyball love,” he said. “But indoor volleyball is a Mecca in Ohio. What I found quickly was that I didn’t want to play indoor.”
Neither, too, did a lot of those people he met. There is a funny little cluster of beach communities in the Ohio area. Indoor sand facilities populate the region though, at the time, there were none in Columbus. In 2007, Robertson was given the opportunity to design and manage a new facility, and when it went up, “it spread like wildfire,” he said.
Leagues throughout the week became a new source of nightlife. By 2008, Robertson made a push to put on his own tournaments.
The beach volleyball world is a small one. Chris Luers is, relative to beach volleyball, famous in the Cincinnati area. One of the more successful players to emerge from Ohio, he’s been playing in AVPs since 2005, made enough main draws to be on a first-name basis with most any pro, and is one of the all-around good guys in the sport.
When he needed help running tournaments at a complex called Flannagan’s in Dublin, Ohio, he knew who to call: Corey Robertson.
“He wanted help running it so he could focus on playing,” Robertson recalled. Only he didn’t just help run the thing, he added his own wrinkle, one that would include a number of divisions rather than the rote two. In the first tournament, rather than the standard 40 or so teams, 100 signed up.
By 2015, he was putting on four events per summer, with 80-110 teams registering for the Saturday men’s and women’s divisions and another 60-80 for the co-ed on Sunday. Enough for everybody to get their taste of the beach.
“We always want to allow the Midwest kids who have never been to California, never been to Florida, never been to an AVP in Chicago or any of those other tournaments, who haven’t been to a real beach to play, to show them the culture of beach volleyball, the lifestyle these people try to live,” Robertson said. “Laid back, the beach, friends – this was always the center of it. We wanted to grow the sport encompassing all of those things. We want to grow the sport. We want to provide opportunity. We want to continue to provide a high-level volleyball.”
High-level, we should note, beach volleyball.
He’ll leave the indoor stuff to someone else.
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