Beach volleyball legend Sinjin Smith sees the sparkling new Sand Volleyball Complex in John Hunt Park as an “absolutely incredible” facility. Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle sees, among other advantages, an opportunity to help with city growth.
One park. Two viewpoints. Both, not only very accurate, but also just a start of what the $3.7 million facility means to the city.
“We have to make sure we provide something for our citizens, make sure we have something that is better quality of life,” Mayor Battle said. “It’s something that also makes the (prospective) worker go home to their spouse and says ‘I’ve got an opportunity for a job in Huntsville, Alabama.’ The spouse looks at it and says this is a great place. We’ve looked it up online, we’ve seen all the neat things, we’ve heard about it and we want to come here. That’s the end goal of this whole thing is that it attracts people to this whole area.”
What you have here is better than anything I’ve seen” – Sinjin Smith
On the surface, the 12-court sand volleyball complex, which covers 17 acres and is part of the transformation of the old airport, impresses easily, even to one of the pioneers of beach volleyball. Smith has seen it all when it comes to the sport he fell in love with at a young age on the Southern California beaches. He teamed with Randy Stoklos to win more professional beach tournaments than any other duo and is a world champion. He’s played in Olympic stadiums and was part of the carnival-like existence on the pro beach tour when sand volleyball stadiums, which often seated more than a thousand people, were erected for a weekend of competition and taken down when the tour moved on to the next beach.
Consider all of that and it’s easy to assume that Smith is hard to impress when it comes to touring a new facility. In this case, though, he admitted to being blown away by the permanent facility at John Hunt Park.
“What you have here is better than anything I’ve seen,” said Smith, who was also an All-American indoor player at UCLA.
He was asked to elaborate on what makes the complex so special.
“Well, look at it,” Smith said, waving his arm toward one group of courts. “To start with, it’s a beautiful park, what an incredible atmosphere. And the way they built these courts with drainage, with 12 courts, which is a lot of courts, with the cooling room. There’s no (other) facility that has a cooling room. The water pops up out of the ground and waters the court when it gets really hot. Just the nets and the poles and everything they put in it is first class. Look at these permanent buildings, associated with beach volleyball in a park, that’s just unheard of. What they’ve done here is really, really incredible.”
It’s also opened a pathway for revenue and opportunity associated with tournaments and clinics that will dot the calendar throughout the year and provide free play opportunities on a regular basis. Ralph Stone, Director of the Huntsville Sports Commission, said the venue will attract amateur and professional competition from players throughout the country. A college tournament is already in the books for November.
The Huntsville Sports Commission will work alongside Atlanta-based Rally Volleyball to bring national and regional events to the venue. Locals will be equally represented with leagues, clinics, tournaments and open play opportunities. That gives players a better chance of pursuing the sport in the future – whether it be the collegiate or professional level. During the 2018-19 school year, 61 Division I universities, 12 Division II athletic programs and five Division III schools sponsored a women’s beach volley program. Four of those schools – UAB, UNA, Huntington and Spring Hill – are within the Alabama boundaries.
“It used to be that you had to be from the West Coast to become a top Beach Volleyball player,” Smith said. “Now, with places like this, you can be from Alabama, you can be from Huntsville and be the No. 1 player in the world. It took something like this to make that happen. The next Sinjin Smith or Karch Kiraly or Misty May of Kerri Walsh could come from right here.”
Add it up and the sand volleyball complex fits nicely into the Huntsville landscape.
“Facilities like this add to our quality of life and make our community very special,” Mayor Battle said. “It’s the reason we can go out and recruit people from the West Coast, from the East Coast and bring them here. They start looking at facilities like this and they say, ‘Wow, this is a special place. Huntsville is a place that is different than everybody else.’ I think you can see that. We had a bunch of city departments come together and they’ve put together a marvelous complex.”