Athletes of all skill levels flocked to northwest Spokane on Saturday to inaugurate a new venue for one of the largest coed six-on-six volleyball tournaments in the world.
Spike & Dig, a lower-key volleyball version of Hoopfest, marks its 21st annual event this weekend. More than 5,000 people showed up to play or watch during the first day of the competition, said Jerry Schmidt, who founded the event. The tournament continues today.
Some traveled from as far as Canada, Montana and California to participate. Players from high schools, junior highs, recreation leagues and even some professional teams spread out across the 75 courts set up on the grassy fields of the Dwight Merkel Sports Complex to compete in the heat.
Schmidt, who is also a co-founder of Hoopfest, handed off control of Spike & Dig to son Brandon Schmidt several years ago. Brandon’s involvement in the event goes back to his early childhood.
“I was going to board meetings when I was 4 years old,” Brandon said. “I’ve been running the tournament as president since my senior year of high school.”
Jerry Schmidt has watched the event grow from 88 teams at its inception to 308 this year. More than 2,500 players registered for the tournament this time, and the Schmidts see big potential for expansion in the near future.
Spokane Falls Community College hosted the event for the past 20 years, but organizers needed to find a new venue as the school’s stadium and sports field undergo renovation this summer. The event organizers, however, were happy to move.
“We outgrew Spokane Falls,” Jerry Schmidt said. “We’re happy as a clam to be here.”
The new, much larger venue gives the event lots of room to grow, Brandon Schmidt said.
“That’s why we’re excited about the new spot,” he said. “There’s a whole field we’re not even utilizing this weekend.”
Brandon estimates the unused field has room for 50 or 60 new courts in future Spike & Digs, allowing for nearly double this year’s turnout.
Jerry Schmidt is also optimistic that there is enough of a demand for attendance to rise.
“Volleyball, nationally, is one of the fastest-growing sports,” he said, “and the reason is because it’s coed. Girls and guys can compete at the same level.”
Last year, about 320 teams played in the tournament. This is the first year attendance has dropped for Spike & Dig, but Schmidt attributes that partly to a lack of advertising.
“We’re going to start looking at marketing a little stronger outside the area,” he said. “I really believe that’s where the growth is.”
The event is a boon for local restaurants, like the Flying Goat and the Field House Pizza and Pub, Schmidt said.
Because it’s at a city facility this year, it also raises revenue for the city.
Private vendors pay 25 percent of their profits from gross sales at the event to the city. The city also gets half the revenue from the $10 fees for pitching a tent on site.
Kari Chavez, a professional volleyball player and coach at West Valley High School, said she likes the new venue better because the grass is softer than the turf at SFCC.
“I like it here,” she said. “I hope they keep it here.”
Chavez also sees potential for growth in the event’s future, as club volleyball becomes more popular in the area.