Special to Transcontinental Media
The population of St. John’s will increase by over 4,000 people this weekend (Oct. 28-29) when the Newfoundland and Labrador Volleyball Association hosts its annual Volleyfest 2011.
It’s described as the largest school-based tournament in the country.
The association has capped participation at 176 teams, which is a record for the event.
That’s almost 2,200 athletes from Grades 7 to Level III, plus 50 to 70 coaches and officials and about 25 conveners.
Add to that over 1,000 parents and it makes for a busy weekend, both in local gymnasiums and in shopping centres, says Volleyball Newfoundland and Labrador executive director Russ Jackson.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a hotel room in the city this weekend, Jackson said.
The players are coming from all areas of the province, except Labrador. There are also two teams travelling from Nova Scotia, Jackson said.
The teams will be playing on over 30 volleyball courts in the city. The primary venue for junior high school players is the NL Sports Centre, which has six courts. The athletes will play in 11 divisions. The main venue for the senior division is Memorial’s Field House and gymnasium. The Field House has four courts. The gym has two courts.
With 12 teams playing in the same gym, Jackson says, the noise and excitement level is something many of the students have never experienced.
The junior high teams follow the “fair play” rule, he said, which gives all the students an opportunity to get off the bench.
“When you’re in Grades 7, 8 and 9, teams shouldn’t be hunting for a banner. We know teams do want to win but it’s also important for the development of young athletes to get on the floor and play and really be part of the tournament.”
The same rule doesn’t apply to senior high students, he said.
“We took that out a couple of years ago because teams were finding it hard to get enough high school students to participate,” he said.
Organizing the tournament started right after last year’s tournament ended, Jackson said.
The logistics of bringing so many teams together is challenging, he said.
“I can’t avail of all gyms in the city. Some of the double courts that I’d like to get, I can’t. And it’s very difficult when you use single courts as there’s a lot of movement between teams. In the city on that weekend, there’s enough congestion as it is so we don’t want teams moving from venue to venue too much.”
Another problem is that some school gymnasiums are deteriorating, Jackson said. The equipment needs to be fixed or replaced.
“That’s unfortunate but we try to help out where we can and invest in some of the facilities to upgrade them for our event.”
Volleyfest is the grand kick-off to the volleyball season, Jackson said. Families make it a fun-filled weekend both on the court and in the stores, he said, with lots of Christmas shopping on their to-do lists.
Finton Gaudette is a volunteer coach from Corner Brook. There’ll be about ten teams — about 120 athletes — playing in Volleyfest from Corner Brook, he said.
Add to that about 100 parents, plus coaches and other volunteers, and it makes for an exciting weekend, he said.
“This is a big event, an early road trip in the year for our athletes. Teams who know they are going back the next year, re-book their hotel rooms when they check-out the previous year,” he said.
A lot of planning goes into the trip for all involved, Gaudette said, with families looking to stay with friends and relatives while in the capital city.
Gaudette said while his athletes and everyone else coming to St. John’s have found accommodations, it’s not unusual for teams in other areas to use short-term apartment rental units in the city.
“Years ago a lot of teams used to resort to staying in church basements, but I don’t think that’s the case now,” he said.
Gaudette said that Volleyfest is a great opportunity for athletes from smaller schools to see some of the main attractions in St. John’s.
“It’s a novelty for some kids to see venues like the Field House and the NL Sports Centre. And it’s an opportunity for them to get to meet other players from outside their own area,” he said.