RUSSELL Schwint stands up and his face is covered in sand. He shakes his head and sand falls out of the whiskers that surround his smile. He brushes himself off with his hands and makes a sound with his lips as if he is blowing into a tuba to get the grains out of his mouth.
Pbbbtthhhh! No, Schwint is not some 90-pound weakling who just had sand kicked in his face by a bully. He’s a beach volleyball player with the Long Island Volleyball Association, one of nearly 6,000 members of the organization that provides advanced players and beginners with a chance to spend evenings at the beach, get a good workout, and, if they’re lucky, get a mouthful of sand. After all, what’s the point of playing volleyball on the soft sand if you’re not going to dive after the ball every chance you get?
“It’s a lot of fun and it’s an inexpensive workout,” said Schwint, who plays on a coed beginner team of six called Dunesday. “Over the river, through the woods, I’d move heaven and earth to play here.”
Fortunately, the effort isn’t quite so dramatic. Schwint, who lives in Holbrook, need only drive to Jones Beach, one of two locations on Long Island where Association teams play (action also takes place at Cedar Beach in Babylon). The courts at Jones Beach are situated at Parking Field 4, right behind the miniature golf course where the old roller rink used to stand. There are six courts and, because there are lights, games begin at 6:45, 7:40, 8:35 and 9:30 every Monday through Thursday night. Cedar Beach games are held on 20 courts at 6:30 on Monday nights.
With the games held at night, more players are able to compete. There are hundreds who sit behind desks in offices in Manhattan all day long, then instead of commuting home they travel to the beach to play volleyball for an hour or two, enjoying the cool breezes and party atmosphere that surround the game.
It’s the ultimate in stress relief.
Nicole Maurice of Williston Park, for example, works as a toxicologist for the medical examiner’s office in Westchester County but comes to Jones Beach once a week to play volleyball. She has been participating in the sport of indoor volleyball for almost 20 years and is in her second year playing the beach version.
“You have to get used to running in the sand, and the wind is a factor,” she said, explaining the differences between indoor and beach volleyball. “The sand makes it harder to move, but it’s easier to dive.”
Four years ago, there was no place for beginning beach volleyball players to play on Long Island. There were games being played at Long Beach and other areas, but those were for seasoned players and it was almost impossible for a novice to break into the sport.
Joe Strining was one of those advanced players diving and spiking at Long Beach, but then he decided to pursue his dream of starting a beach volleyball league. In 1998, the Long Island Volleyball Association began with 28 teams at Cedar Beach. The following year the courts at Jones Beach were opened and membership jumped to 120 teams. Last year there were 400 teams and this year the league is filled to the scheduling brim with nearly 600 teams.
The 600 teams are divided into three levels — recreational, intermediate and advanced — and five divisions — coed teams of six, four and two players each and men’s teams of four and two. Players range from age 15 to over 50, and most of the players are at the recreational level.
“There were always advanced leagues for strong volleyball players,” Strining said, “but not everybody had a chance to get better. Now it doesn’t matter if you’re the greatest volleyball player or not. We provide them with organization and fun, and when you combine the two it makes everybody, including myself, very happy.”
AND it’s a lot of fun even for those who don’t play. On warm summer nights the boardwalk at Jones Beach is packed with people, many of whom take time out to sit and watch a few games of volleyball. At Cedar Beach there is a disc jockey playing music and a line of grills waiting for the games to end and the cooking to begin. At Jones Beach the music is just as loud, and all along the perimeter of the courts are people dancing and chatting while drinking from plastic cups.
“It’s like a sandbox for adults,” Strining said. “It’s meant to be a nice, fun place to come.”
Strining’s professional background is in marketing, so when he opened the league and started looking for players, he had to think hard. He sent letters to human resource departments of hundreds of companies on Long Island and in the city and received a tremendous response (about three-quarters of the teams in the association are made up of players who work together). He went to various beaches and put fliers on windshields, an activity that got him thrown out of a few places.
“I wanted to try to find the market, but in the process realized I was creating the market,” Strining said. “Our next goal is to expand to either an indoor facility or find another area to play on Long Island.”
Players can join the league as a team for a price of $425 a team with an extra $15 per player. That works out to about $57.50 a player for eight weeks of action and a week of playoffs, after-session parties, T-shirts and an identification card that gets discounts at various local stores and pubs.
Individuals can join for $90 and be placed on a team, which is what happened to Janna Jachniewicz of Hicksville. Her mother saw an ad in a newspaper and told her about it, so Jachniewicz made a phone call and showed up.
“Luckily they put me on a good team and I’ve stayed with them,” she said, adding that she plays for three teams in the LIVA along with weekend tournaments around the country. “I even talked my sister Tara into joining this year. She’s never played before, but I told her it’s a fun place to come and relax and meet a lot of nice people.” And get an occasional mouthful of sand.
For information on playing in the Long Island Volleyball Association, call 631-422-5555 or visit http://www.longislandvolleyball.com/.