Trivia question: What event generates the most hotel night stays in Spokane?
If you guessed Hoopfest or Bloomsday, guess again.
Every year, USA Volleyball’s Pacific Northwest Qualifier floods hotels and other businesses in Spokane with thousands of players, coaches, trainers, referees and families.
This year’s tournament, which began Friday and runs this weekend and next weekend at the Convention Center, Eastern Washington University and The Hub in Liberty Lake, is expected to bring 14,000 people to Spokane.
The Spokane Sports Commission estimates the tournament pumps $5 million into the local economy.
The event’s executive director, Spokane resident Russ Poage, said the majority of teams are from out of town, which is why the hotels are always filled to capacity.
Adding to the crowds this weekend, Spokane also is hosting the NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament and “West Side Story” at the INB Performing Arts Center.
But while most of Spokane’s sports focus is on basketball, volleyball has taken over its own corner of the city.
“We really fly under the radar quite a bit,” Poage said.
That’s not to say a few parents weren’t watching March Madness games on TVs in the Convention Center lobby, or that brackets weren’t consulted regularly.
Fourteen courts in the Spokane Convention Center are where the majority of the volleyball action takes place.
The players are girls ages 8 to 18 on club teams from across the country, including Alaska and Hawaii. Each weekend crowns a group of champions who qualify for the Junior Olympics in Dallas in June.
Now in its 16th year in Spokane, the event is one of 10 Junior Olympic qualifying tournaments in the country.
This year’s tournament has about 500 teams, about 40 more than last year.
Poage said the levels of talent and financial investment for each club varies. Many of the girls also play on middle school or high school teams, but the draw for club sports is often the diversity of girls and the tournament atmosphere.
Poage got involved with volleyball when his daughters started playing in the 1980s. He soon found himself coaching and organizing tournaments, including the Pacific Northwest Qualifier. His 13-year-old granddaughter, Peyton Stark, now participates, and competed Friday with a team from the Mead area.
“They call this the father-daughter tournament,” Poage said.
The relaxed atmosphere of the Spokane tournament allows the girls to learn more aspects of the game, like officiating and keeping score, he said.
From a local perspective, 14-year-old Taylor Rider, a Chase Middle School eighth-grader playing for Apex Synergy’s club team, said the event is an opportunity to meet players from across the country.
“It’s really cool to see how many teams there are,” Taylor said. “It’s kind of neat to see how they all came for this.”