Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
The USA Boys Junior Olympic Volleyball Tournament has drawn 384 teams and nearly 35,000 people to the Sandy Expo Center.

SANDY — Mara Berzins and Thanh Huang stand on the sideline of a volleyball court discussing what might entertain a pack of teenage boys on a Sunday afternoon in Utah.

That is not an easy task as they try to juggle volleyball schedules with drive times and individual interests.

"Yesterday, we took the 18s team up to Park City and did the zip line and watched the skiers jump into the pool," said Berzins, who has two sons playing in the Maryland Volleyball Club. "They got paper and started to give them scores on their jumps. Some of them would look up to see how the boys scored them. They had a lot of fun."

Mothers and fathers from around the country — and even a few from outside the United States — face the same dilemma as Berzins and Huang. Nearly 35,000 people converged in Sandy this past week for the 2008 USA Boys Junior Olympic Volleyball Tournament. The event, which started July 2 and runs through Wednesday, is projected to have around a $25 million to $30 million economic impact as those who came for volleyball turn the trip into a family vacation.

This is the fourth USA Junior Volleyball Olympic Championship tournament Utah has hosted in eight years; the other three events were girls tournaments.

"It's user-friendly, safe and family-oriented," said Mike Chandler, director of USA Championship Events. "It's also easy to get to."

Cities bid on the tournament, which this year attracted 384 of the world's best 18-and-under teams. And while it may seem odd that a state that can barely field six teams for the tournament is playing host to such a prestigious gathering, Chandler said having thriving volleyball programs is not a requirement for host communities.

"In fact, sometimes we're a shot in the arm for those areas," he said. "We're not spectator driven, although these matches are a lot of fun to watch, and we love to have the public here."

Chandler said unfortunately people in many parts of the United States still have a mistaken idea of what volleyball is at its highest levels, and that's the brand of volleyball being played in Sandy this week.

"When you say volleyball, people think of the game you play in your backyard at family gatherings," he said, "not the dynamic sport it is. ... You really don't know what it is until you see it. The general public understands the women's college game very well. In fact, volleyball is viewed in this country as a women's collegiate game. It's so much more than that."

John Wilkins understands that because he's spent many hours over many years in gymnasiums around the country watching his sons' Sport Performance 16-under team compete. He said his family used to come to nationals and then try to plan a separate vacation, but with a daughter and twin sons playing in separate cities, it became too much time away from their home in Chicago.

"So now we just come a day late and tack three or four days onto the end," Wilkins said. "We went to Sundance yesterday. Today we're going to Deer Valley and maybe tubing at Jordanelle. We also want to go to the Olympic Park. We went downtown to the Gateway and Temple Square. It's a pretty area. This is a great town."

Wilkins and his family have an advantage some teams don't have in that their coach is a former BYU volleyball player.

"I really miss the mountains," said Ryan Oates, who is a native of Chicago. "I miss the culture. It's nice visiting. As a team, whenever we get a chance to go out and do something, we do. ... I drove them all around downtown Salt Lake and we talked about the culture here. When we arrived at the airport, some missionaries were coming home, and they wanted to know why everyone was cheering for these guys in suits. For 16-year-olds, they were very interested. I was surprised."

Coaches are supportive of family gatherings but want to make sure players are focused on competing when they need to be. That's why most teams love the morning schedule.

"We've been in the afternoon pool, and that's kind of rotten," said John Yehling, coach of a St. Louis team. "We went to lunch as a team, but getting out of the gym at 10 o'clock at night. What are we going to do then?"

They finished tournament play Sunday around noon.

"Now we're going to go do something," he said.


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