The people who play volleyball on Santa Monica beaches are taking part in a rich tradition. Indeed, volleyball has been part of the local beach scene for nearly a century, and many organizations — including the sport’s international federation — pinpoint Santa Monica as a birthplace of beach volleyball.
As such, it struck several Santa Monica natives as odd that the coastal city didn’t have a formal entity to honor the local history of beach volleyball. But it will soon.
Locally raised professional player Christopher St. John “Sinjin” Smith and Santa Monica High School beach volleyball coach Kurt Schwengel are members of an advisory board that is working on establishing an official beach volleyball hall of fame in Santa Monica.
Organizers are holding their inaugural tournament and induction ceremony Oct. 22 at the courts near Santa Monica Pier.
“It makes sense for us to have a beach volleyball hall of fame,” said Schwengel, who is also a member of the city Recreation and Parks Commission. “Volleyball royalty has passed through the pier. [This lets us] grow the game while acknowledging the legends of the past.”
One of those legends is Bobby Barber, who will be the local hall’s inaugural inductee. Barber, who died in 2015, was a World War II veteran and L.A. County firefighter and played regularly on the local courts. He was known as an ambassador of the game, often inviting new players to join him on the sand.
“Bobby was by no means a world-class volleyball player, but he probably played more games at the Santa Monica Pier than anybody in the history of the sport,” Schwengel said. “He was a mainstay for 40 years. And he was the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet. You couldn’t find anybody to say a negative thing about Bobby Barber. He was loved by all.”
Barber highlights a long line of standout volleyball players who have competed at the pier courts, including Olympic gold medalist Eric Sato and his sister, women’s medalist and Vikings volleyball coach Liane Sato; decorated beach athlete Misty May-Treanor, who grew up playing locally with her father, Robert Stanley “Butch” May Jr.; and UCLA women’s volleyball coach Michael Sealy.
Organizers are working with the City of Santa Monica to designate an area for plaques, Schwengel said. They hope to create a nonprofit and induct two people each year.
The upcoming tournament will host teams of four, each of which must have at least one female player. Play begins at 9 a.m., with the induction ceremony slated to start at 1 p.m.
Schwengel expects to have upwards of 20 teams participating in the budding hall of fame’s inaugural event.
“One more organization putting on volleyball tournaments in Santa Monica can only help grow the game and expose more kids to it,” he said. “Santa Monica kids should know this is the home of beach volleyball and take pride in that.”
For more information, visit https://smbvhof.shutterfly.com or https://www.eventbrite.com/e/legends-beach-volleyball-tournament-tickets-28215242550.