For over 45 years, America has loved the Motherlode Tournament. Now, the Peak of Volleyball features the AVL Cup.
Here’s the story:
In 1972, a couple of Aspen, Colorado restaurateurs decided to spice up what was, at that time, a lackluster Labor Day Weekend by hosting a small, invitation only, volleyball tournament. Little did they know that their one day, 14 team tourney was going to become one of the biggest, and most popular, pro-am beach doubles volleyball Events in North America – the MotherLode Volleyball Classic, held every Labor Day Weekend in Aspen, Colorado.
Transplanted from Newport Beach, California, all Howard Ross and Gordon Whitmer – the co-owners of The MotherLode Restaurant, in Aspen – were trying to do was to have a little fun and provide themselves and their friends with a beach volleyball “fix” on a quiet Labor Day Weekend. They set-up courts in Wagner Park, provided food for a barbecue, brought in a keg of beer, and played volleyball. The winners of that first “informal” tourney were none other than beach legends Chester and Steve Goss, from San Diego living in Aspen. It was fun! So…they decided to do it again the next year. And, a few more teams showed-up. The next thing they knew, they had – without the benefit, or effort, of advertising and promotion – a full-blown tourney on their hands. In those early years, registrations were taken by the restaurant’s bar tenders; was produced by one of their waiters (Andy Hanson, originally from San Diego); and, t-shirts were produced and sold by another waiter. The tournament had grown from 14 teams to over 160 teams and had supplanted the Colorado Open, held in Boulder, as the toughest tourney in Colorado. As well, they were starting to draw teams from outside the State – especially from the beaches of California. And…it was getting too big for the restaurant to handle.
In 1981, Ross and Whitmer brought in local volleyball player, coach, and event promoter – Leon Fell – to produce and coordinate the schedule of events surrounding the tournament. Fell, who was, at that time, producing the series of events pertaining to the Subaru/Aspen Winternational World Cup Skiing (America’s Downhill) week, in Aspen, asked them if they were interested in doing what it took to make the ‘MotherLode’ (as it was becoming called) into a National tourney. They laughed and said “sure” – thinking that that was something that could never be. The next year, Fell hired regional tournament organizer Tim Weiand as Tournament Director and set-up a new infrastructure for marketing and promotion – MotherLode Volleyball Productions. He utilized his gregarious nature and his growing contacts within the volleyball world and proceeded with his dream to make the landlocked beach tournament one of the most renowned Events in beach volleyball — all the while trying to maintain the original flavor of that first tourney.
Over the years, the Event has grown to become the most comprehensive beach doubles volleyball tournament in North America; including upwards of 700 teams coming from all over the United States to participate in, and celebrate, what Volleyball Magazine has termed “the social event of the outdoor volleyball season”. It has expanded from a one-day tourney to a five-day Event. And, from one division to 17 divisions of play ranging from Men’s and Women’s Open to Women’s B – with Men’s and Women’s Senior’s and Master’s divisions in between. It has drawn players such as the 2000 Sydney, Australia Olympic Beach Volleyball Champion Dain Blanton to the likes of other current AVP players like Vince Robbins, Mike Whitmarsh, Canyon Ceman, Adam Jewell, Dax Holdren, Albert Hanneman, Linda Hanley, Leanne Schuster, Nancy Mason, Danalee Bragado, Liz Pagano, and Rachel Wacholder. Ex-AVP and USA National team players such as Pat Powers, Jon Stanley, Dane Hansen, Byron Shewman, Danny Patterson, Shawn Fallowfield, Jon Stevenson, Steve Timmons, Roger Clark, Craig Moothart, Tom Duke, Mark Tanner, Rudy Dvorak, Leif Hansen, Rob Heidger, Curtis Griffin, Erik, Moore, Ryan Post, Andrew Cavanaugh, Larry Benecke, Larry Mear, Eric Wurts, Pono Ma’a, Janice Opalinsky, Elaine Rogue, Hillary Johnson, Kim Harsch-Bird, Christine Schaefer, Gayle Stammer, Laurel Brassey, Valinda Hilleary, Pat Keller, and Canadian star Garth Pischke have graced the ‘Lode’s main championship courts. As well, beach legends Jon Lee, George Zebot, Dan Salyer, Chester and Steve Goss, David King, Scott Steele, Bob Pape, and Monty McBride have continued their storied careers here. The MotherLode has been the proving ground for many rookie AVP players and the feeling of satisfaction for many other amateur players from around the Country. More than quite a few volleyball relationships have been made at “the ‘Lode” as well as many marriages and anniversaries.
Since 1972, The MotherLode is, still, that fun little tournament held every Labor Day Weekend in the mountain hamlet of Aspen, Colorado.