How does a Mormon fit in on the "big party" beach volleyball circuit?
Quite well — at least for LDS rising star Casey Patterson, who says that promoters, advertisers and maybe some fans like to sell that party image, but in reality, it's not that way.
"About 40 percent of the players have young babies," says Patterson, "and we get together and talk about our families." He says in actuality the AVP Tour (Association of Volleyball Professionals) is overall "a health-conscious environment." Smoking and drinking are really minimal from what he has observed. "There is a handful, " he said about those who party, but "they are those who really don't care (about the sport)."
And, consequently, those are not the ones who excel.
Patterson began playing on the AVP Tour in 2007 and was ranked 83rd. In his first full year, 2008, he ended up 40th in the rankings. By the end of 2009, he had climbed to 15th.
This year Patterson and his partner, Kevin Wong, took third place at Huntington Beach and fifth place at Virginia Beach. He has moved into the top 10, now ranked 10th. As a team, he and Wong are currently rank sixth. (The AVP only plays team competition, but a points ranking system calculates individual rankings as well as team ranking.)
Of course, the sport of volleyball is not as lucrative as many other sports, and in order to make a living at it one needs to play near the top 10 level. And that is exactly what Patterson plans to do.
As a relative newcomer to the sport, Patterson just turned 30. "Your prime starts between 30-35," he said.
He explained that playing in sand does not take a toll on your body as much as other hard-surface sports. He said Karch Kiraly, the most widely known and best player, played until he was 48.
Patterson said opportunities abound to talk about the church.
He once had a partner who said to him: "I don't drink because of sports. How come you don't drink?"
Responding to these kinds of questions is how he works in discussions about the church.
When playing on the road, Patterson said rooming with his various partners reminds him of missionary companionships. He served a mission to Little Rock, Ark.
"You really get to know each other," said Patterson about his partners. "Every partner that I have played with has ended up talking to me about the church and wanted to know more about it. So I would always do my little missionary discussions and tell them all about the church and how it works. All of them have been really open to what I have to say. And a lot of them believe many of the things the church teaches. It has been a real positive experience."
Fans will come up to Patterson and say, "I have a buddy who is a member of your church. He said to say hi." There are a couple of responses that work well in steering those conversations to talking about the church.
Growing up in Newbury Park, Calif., Patterson received several Division I scholarship offers but chose not to play at all and attended Ricks College before going on his mission.
He returned and played at Utah Valley University for one semester before BYU spotted his immense talent and offered him a scholarship to play there. At 6-foot-6 and with a measured reach of 8-11, he ranks just behind current No. 1 ranked AVP star Phil Dallhausser in the "wingspan" statistic.
In Provo, he met and married former Jordan High volleyball star Lexi Brown, who was also playing at BYU. After graduation, both accepted job offers to play in Sweden. After one year there, Patterson played for one year in Puerto Rico, where he was named MVP.
In Sweden, Patterson remembers going to church and the missionaries would sit by him and his wife. "They would translate the whole meeting," he said.
After Puerto Rico, he qualified for the AVP, and Lexi retired to have a child. They live in Huntington Beach, Calif., and are proud parents of a 16-month-old son whom they named Cash. DiG magazine hinted that their son's name was a lot like the green stuff, but Patterson says that's not the case.
"We liked Johnny Cash," Patterson said, "and it is a derivative of my first name."
He and Lexi were Primary workers in their ward. She is now in the Young Women, and he travels too much to hold down a regular position.
In his spare time, Patterson coaches club volleyball in a nearby place owned by fellow Mormon Adam Cutrell. Eventually, when he settles down, his goal is to coach at the Division I level. For now, Patterson will take this run as long as it lasts.
"It has been fun to be able to go to church wherever we go in the world," he said. "We have seen the church in (many) different languages."