Considering how many fabulous beaches Cayman Islands boasts, volleyball is a relatively minor sport here. But that is changing rapidly thanks to the efforts of its ever growing band of supporters.
One of them is Carl Brenton beach volleyball co-ordinator of the Cayman Islands Volleyball Association. ‘All week we’ve had volleyball vacations down here and there’s three Association of Volleyball Professionals who have come down with them,’ he says. ‘There are 40 people in total who have come down. It brings tourism to the island, obviously and they play tournaments and the pros give clinics and then they get to play with the pros at the end of the week. The kids are here today because my wife Wanda teaches PE at the Montessori by the Sea and so as part of the trip I’ve agreed to organise a kids clinic for her with her class.’
The squeals of delight pierce through the sea breeze at the Public Beach. It’s Friday afternoon and the three coaches must be exhausted after running adult sessions all week but they find the extra burst of energy – and patience – to tutor the hyper-active children.
Brenton is delighted that the coaches have made the effort. ‘The main pro, Albert Hannemann, runs a non-profit charity, Dig For Kids, where sponsors give a dollar for every ‘dig’ (block) they do on tour. They do some tutoring with inner-city kids and also teach them volleyball, which is obviously not much of an inner-city sport. They’re used to basketball so Albert gets to introduce them to it. He’s bought a bunch of T-shirts for the kids today.
‘He’s been doing this for 11 years and this is the first official full trip to the Cayman Islands. He’s been to Turks and Caicos a lot, Bahamas, Hawaii, Mexico… all over California. The weather’s been amazing for them this week. The party’s been to see a lot of the island, including the turtle farm and different things. It’s been great.’
Brenton wants to bring the pros back again next year and hopes to entice some corporate sponsorship to get more schools involved, ideally public ones. Hannemann is back by popular demand. He was in Cayman a year ago and did a brief clinic with the children and they’ve been asking for his return ever since.
Wanda is a keen volleyballer herself. She was ill with a fever last week but managed to drag herself out to ensure the children were not disappointed. ‘Me being sick meant they were really worried that they wouldn’t get to come today,’ she says. ‘Even the mums were terrified that they wouldn’t get to come. They love it. They would definitely take it up if they got the chance to. This is just an introduction to them, it’s not something they do all the time. But just being at the beach and anything to do with chasing the ball, to get them to come more often, they would definitely come.’
Noel Williams is president of the volleyball federation. ‘I’m just in the background,’ he says modestly. ‘The man behind the whole energy here is Carl. I want to thank him for working so hard and taking the whole week from his regular job to make sure everything was properly run and it went very well. When Albert returns next year we hope to get a really big sponsor so that 100 or 200 kids can benefit. We want volleyball to be the No.1 sport on the island and that’s what we’re working towards. Beaches are going to play a big part in that. It’s hard but it’s going to be a lot of fun.’
Hannemann is a 37-year-old veteran who has transcended volleyball by also modelling, multiple TV work – including Baywatch – and emceeing. An astute businessman, the adult clinics he runs through his company volleyballvacations.com is very successful. A pro for 15 years who has been doing these volleyball vacations for most of them, he is based in Redondo, California. ‘It’s fun to come here and we just want to try to help grow the sport wherever we can, try to teach kids and hopefully they’ll pick it up and maybe one day they’ll get to play professionally,’ he says. ‘We’re pretty well known volleyball players so they’re going to take it seriously.’
How did he end up in Cayman? ‘Well I met Carl and Wanda years ago and last year I did the clinic for them for the kids and they asked me to come back. This is a nice break from the volleyball tourists we’ve been teaching all week. I want to thank the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism for helping to support us to be here. We’d like a major sponsor to come in next year and help us go to many more schools and introduce the sport to many more kids.’
Volleyball has transcended from a fun beach past-time like Frisbee to Olympic status. The USA’s men and women currently dominate the sport, something Hannemann is very proud of. ‘Both are the world champions right now. The US is standing up well in the Olympics. They’ve both won the gold medal and this year is our best chance of winning both men’s and women’s. We’re really excited about their chances.’
Because of the competitive nature of volleyball, Hannemann may be a superstar but he has only one tournament victory. His fellow coach Mark Kerins has two career wins. ‘One kid asked me: ‘If you’ve won one and he’s won two, how come you’re more famous than him?’ And I didn’t know how to answer that! Well, I said: ‘I’m still playing and he’s retired’.’