St. Louis Hosts Inaugural President's Day Classic

Lee Feinswog
The President's Day Classic had boys' teams as well as girls', a direction organizers hope will allow the tournament to grow.

This was not your average club volleyball tournament.

No, indeed, since my Volleyball Baton Rouge 16s team spent much of its time last weekend on about the 5-yard line.

And, while it wasn’t exactly like Ghostbusters – “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together” –200 girls’ teams shared the President’s Day Classic with 158 boys’ teams.

The tournament was held in the downtown St. Louis convention center and on the floor of the adjacent football stadium, the same Edward Jones Dome in which the St. Louis Rams play.

What’s more, the tournament was put on and conducted by a group from Indianapolis, which meant St. Louis reaped the benefits while someone from the outside took a chance.

For us, it was an opportunity to play against some different and outstanding competition and, which comes with the territory, going someplace considerable colder than Baton Rouge in mid-February.

The tournament was put on by the same folks who run the Mid-East Qualifier in Indianapolis and St. Louis, a group that includes the Circle City Volleyball Club and Capitol Sports Center.

“We’ve always been interested in doing a President’s Day event,” said Scott McQueen of Indianapolis. “And a lot of St. Louis clubs enjoyed MEQ here and it’s a great facility, obviously. We talked (to clubs) here about having an event here so they wouldn’t have to travel and they were all on board, so it just came together.”

If only it were that simple, of course.

Kent Miller, third-year coach at nearby Saint Louis University, understands the undertaking and the benefits.

“It’s great not only for Saint Louis University and our opportunity to recruit players from all over the nation right here in St. Louis,” Miller said, “but what it’s best for is this great volleyball community.

“So many times you have to travel and club volleyball takes a lot of resources and to have such a high-quality event here is great for the whole region.”

Presumably, with 360 teams or so in attendance, there was considerable economic impact.

Rich Luenemann, who is in his 15th year as head coach at Washington University in St. Louis, had a lot of praise for the St. Louis sports commission, not only for its efforts with this tournament but when Wash U. was the host for the NCAA Division III national championships.

“St. Louis is a sports town. St. Louis is a good volleyball town with great club programs and on a per-capita basis, considering the size of the city and the suburbs, we have some really elite players here,” Luenemann said. “So it’s great that we have a tournament like this and it’s only going to get better.”

McQueen sure hopes so, and having boys is a big part of it. While the girls played for three days, the boys played for two.

“That part that’s exciting is we think the tournament can grow,” McQueen said. “It’s very unique that the boys and the girls are there together.”

He smiled.

“Obviously there are reasons why they’re going back and forth to watch each other.”

In our case, our girls were pretty excited to be in a tournament that featured tall boys in the hotel lobby.

Outside of California, boys’ volleyball exists in pockets around the country, and is strong in the Midwest, and these guys and their teams seemed to play at high level with all the enthusiasm and family following that those of us in girls’ club volleyball are used to.

McQueen said the Gateway Region was a big help for the tournament, especially getting the boys involved.

All in all, it was well worth the risk of putting on such a huge competition. The timing of it was good, although in Louisiana we don’t get President’s Day off of school.

“These events are big swings or misses,” McQueen said. “There are a lot of expenses and a lot of work that goes into it, so you hope that you put on a quality event so people want to come back.

“We feel like we have a good toehold and hopefully it will keep growing.
Luenemann enjoyed the easy recruiting trip.

“It’s great that we’re attracting elite teams to an elite competition. We have the venue to do it,” Luenemann said.

Indeed. It was something else to occasionally look up and see the many players honored from the historic Rams franchise, from Deacon Jones to Norm Van Brocklin to Eric Dickerson. And then really look up and realize that the girls were playing in the great expanse of a gigantic football stadium.

“It’s a nice open facility,” McQueen said. “Nobody hits the ceiling, that’s for sure.”

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