Record numbers of teams and players hit the sand in beach volleyball league.

By Ross Forman

The annual Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association beach volleyball league has spiked in popularity this summer to record-setting numbers.

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There are 140 teams this season, up from 111 last year. This is believed to be the world’s largest LGBT beach volleyball league, definitely the biggest in the U.S., and these are the most teams in CMSA history.
“The beach is a very popular place to be and everyone just loves this sport,” said Anton Mulvaney, 44, the league’s commissioner. “Actually, though, I was concerned that there wasn’t going to be the same amount of teams as last year, so I was kind of floored at the actual number of people who registered.”
A large part of the credit for CMSA beach volleyball’s growth this summer goes to Denice Bardt and Stacey Ravenisi, who joined the 12-person beach volleyball board of directors on the recommendation of CMSA president Marcia Hill, when Mulvaney sought additional female support.
Bardt and Ravenisi spearheaded a media blitz about the sport, Mulvaney said.
The women’s division this season, no doubt largely due to Bardt and Ravenisi, is its largest-ever. There are 20 women-only teams, up from 12 last summer. Mulvaney expects that total to jump to 30 in 2009.
“It is quite an intense experience every Friday night. At times, I get teary-eyed, knowing that so many people are having such a good time,” said Mulvaney, who is gay.
There are six divisions for open play (mostly male teams) and two for women. There are about 1,200 players this season, the most ever, with players ranging in age from 18 to 50. Most are Chicago-area residents, but some players travel to Montrose Harbor from Michigan and Wisconsin.
“There truly is a division [of play] for everyone,” Mulvaney said. “We really want to be inclusive, so we do not turn anyone away.”
But that’s forced a space issue. Or lack thereof, to be exact. With the season running 10 weeks, teams now only play seven of those weeks.
The league is considering using two beaches in 2009, Montrose and Foster, “so if we get into the 150- or 160-team-range, we then would be able to accommodate all,” Mulvaney said.
Chicago will host the North American Gay Volleyball Association (NAGVA) Championships XXVII next May, it was recently announced, marking the fourth time Chicago has hosted the annual event and the first time since 1991.
The event will be held May 23-25, 2009, at Navy Pier – and about 1,000 players from across America, Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico are expected.
“We’re excited to be hosting NAGVA Championships XXVII in 2009,” said Chad Carroll, director of Championships XXVII. “Chicago is a city of diversity, offering unique social, athletic and recreational activities. We have already gathered significant support in Chicago’s business community and anticipate excitement building between now and Championships.”
NAGVA is one of the nation’s largest LGBT sports organizations with more than 5,000 members.

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