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Spiking fever 

by Pia K. Hansen

More than 100 years ago, an otherwise unknown YMCA instructor named William G. Morgan, at a club in Holyoke, Mass., came up with the game of volleyball. He wanted a fun and challenging game -- primarily for the exercise classes he held for business men -- but found basketball (also invented in Massachusetts) to be too physical. Borrowing a tennis net and a couple of tennis rules, he invented volleyball.

Today the sport is one of the fastest growing participatory sports in the nation -- right after soccer -- and this weekend young and old, seasoned and amateur, are meeting to volley it up at Spike and Dig at Spokane Falls Community College.

"It's our 10th anniversary tournament," says Event Director Jerry Schmidt. "I'm one of the co-founders of Hoopfest, so after a couple of years doing Hoopfest, some volleyball friends of mine said, 'Hey, wouldn't it be great to have a volleyball tournament like that?' and that's how it got started back in '91."

Spike and Dig has grown to be the largest outdoor volleyball tournament in the U.S. since then, with about 200 teams expected to line up this year. The funny thing is that Schmidt didn't even know the rules when he helped start the tournament.

"I'm not a volleyball player," he laughs, "my expertise is to put on events. [In] the first years people would ask me about rule interpretation, and I didn't even know the rules."

But not to worry -- Spike and Dig now has the help of United States Volleyball Association official Phil Robinson to settle any doubt about the finer details of the game.

Schmidt is pretty excited about this year's open league, where he hopes to see a repeat of last year's local victory.

"The team that won the open division last year was just like a high school team," he explains. "They beat the team Alan Alan was on. He used to play for the Paul Mitchell pro-volleyball team. So that goes to tell you the local people are very good."

But if you talk to Nate Swinton from last year's winning team, Trampled Under Foot (yes, they were named after a Led Zeppelin song), he's quick to downplay their achievement. "It wasn't like the whole team was a professional team, it was just that one guy," he says.

This year, his team is hoping to do as well as last year, but it's clear they are in it for the fun more than anything else. "We'll be the Misty Mountain Hoppers this year, even if the team is basically the same," says Swinton, who forms the core together with old friends Brian Lee, Harly Drum, Dan Meade and Julie Weatherhead.

"We also have Janelle Ruen and Mindy Wallis on the team," says Swinton. "We'll all be juniors in college this fall, except Brian, who's a year younger." He adds that the team plays so well together because they all know each other very well outside of the court. "I think that carries over to the game," says Swinton.

During the tournament, 105.7 The Peak will be entertaining the crowd with the latest hits, and there will be children's activities as well.

"The focus is for everyone in the family to be able to have a good time," says Schmidt. "We also have a jungle ball league, you know, these are the backyard players who don't really know the rules, like you can't touch the net and all that, but they still come and play for the fun of it."

Outside the jungle ball league, the Misty Mountain Hoppers is a pretty typical team for Spike and Dig, being a mix of men and women. There are single sex leagues, but most teams are coed. Schmidt says that's one of the beauties of volleyball.

"I don't want to sound sexist at all, but if you watch the match-ups at Hoopfest, I mean, the games can be very physical," he explains. "And some women are not attracted to that. Volleyball is a lot more about skill, team play and coordination -- basketball can just be more rough."

Swinton just thinks it's a great event: "It's as exciting as Hoopfest -- the spirit is just great."

The Spike and Dig sixes volleyball tournament runs on Saturday, August 4, from 9 am-6 pm, and continues on Sunday, August 5, from 10 am-4 pm. Teams must be preregistered. Proceeds go to the Manito Lions and their work with visually impaired people as well as other local charities. Call: 499-2309.

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