Kerri Walsh Jennings hosts clinic

Kerri Walsh Jennings Leads Clinic of 30 in Bolsa Chica

Sitting at a table in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, in a break between matches at the annual Fuds tournament, four high school beach players were asked why they got into beach volleyball. All of their answers could be summed up nearly in four words: Kerri Walsh, Misty May.

That was half a decade ago.

Five years later, the answers remain the same.

Speaking to the Los Angeles Times during downtime at a clinic in Bolsa Chica last weekend, put on by p1440 in collaboration with Dick’s Sporting Goods, Joanna Stroud and Natalie Soto, both teenagers, mirrored that sentiment: “We would always mess around and say we were going to be Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor.”

Such is the multi-generational influence of Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor, two of the most dominant athletes across all of sports. When they made the most unprecedented run in beach history, one that included 43 FIVB victories and three Olympic gold medals from 2002-2012, a streak of dominance that is unlikely to be impeached, it came at a time when beach volleyball was just getting an international audience. It came on the biggest stage in sports, across three Olympics, aired to audiences at an impressionable age.

And so it is that players on the AVP Tour have been inspired by Walsh Jennings. Players in the college game have been inspired by Walsh Jennings. Players at clinics from Starlings Volleyball, USA in Bolsa Chica, organized by Dick’s Sporting Goods, have been inspired by Walsh Jennings.

“Just, literally, so much joy and inspiration,” Walsh Jennings told the Times. “These girls were so awesome. They were so appreciative, and they were here to do it right, and you can see that from the first minute.

“None of these girls have played beach volleyball before, but they came out here, like, ‘I’m here to learn, I’m here to have fun,’ and they were committed. As a coach or as an ambassador for the sport, when you see kids who don’t really know the sport but they’re curious about it and their potential drives them, like, today was a joy.”

It is one of Walsh Jennings’ biggest joys to share the sport that has given her the platform she currently has. It’s a major focal point of p1440, the platform she helped co-found: To make beach volleyball more accessible, at all levels, from the professional to the Starlings.

Part of that is, of course, financial, and one of the highlights of the day was the $25,000 check that Dick’s Sporting Goods Foundation, Sports Matter, donated to Starlings. It’s part of an ongoing effort from Sports Matter to provide resources to youth in sports. Since 2014, it has donated more than $100 million in grants and sponsorships, and Walsh Jennings was excited to join the movement.

“Sports have played a major role in my life and I can’t imagine how different life would be if I hadn’t grown up with them,” Walsh Jennings said. “Sports teach kids so many valuable lessons that extend beyond the field, like discipline, accountability, teamwork and perseverance.” 

And so she’s putting her boots on the ground, despite a schedule that has taken her to more countries and time zones in just the past few months than she can likely rattle off the top of her head.

She’ll continue to do this until it is no longer her name that youths mention when asked who inspired them to play, but the name of an athlete in generation directly inspired by her.