(Friendly) Family Feud

The Pottstown Rumble brings out the competitive spirit of familial teams

Bill Bonney
Misty May-Treanor demonstrates proper technique in her Dream in Gold clinic

Watching his 17-year-old daughter Bayleigh Hoffman compete in the women’s open competition at the Pottstown Rumble, Brett Hoffman reminisced about playing in the very first Rumble 23 years ago

Hoffman, Sr., 44 and now head volleyball coach at Pennsylvania’s Dover High School, didn’t win the first year’s tournament back in 1991, but he made it to the quarterfinals. This year he even ran into his former rivals that beat him back then. “I had hair back then,” he laughed. “Now I’m here watching my kid play. And their kids are out there playing too. It’s a nice little volleyball family that just seems to stay together.”

This year the Pottstown Rumble (pottstownrumble.com) was nothing less than epic: spanning four days in June, its 284 nets attracted 3,292 players, including three-time Olympian Misty May-Treanor, whose presence was the big draw for 400 star-struck juniors. But while the tournament has grown into what is arguably the largest grass doubles tournament in the country, the Rumble, nestled in the southeast Pennsylvania community of Pottstown, about 45 minutes from Philadelphia, is still, in many ways, just a family affair.

The event is organized by the father-son team of founder Ken Kaas and his son Seth. They oversee dozens of dedicated volunteers who somehow manage to keep track of the action in 22 divisions, including a men’s professional division with a $5,000 purse. While the Rumble attracts top U.S. and international players, on virtually every court you’ll find a player with family ties to the Rumble.

Bayleigh Hoffman, who has committed to play indoor and sand with the University of Louisiana at Monroe for the 2014 season, said she was happy to carry on her father’s legacy of playing at the Open level in the Rumble. “It’s the most competitive grass tournament around,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting to win, but I wanted to play [against] the best. When I come home from college, I’ll still play the Rumble.”

The Lucas and Russell families also have a multi-generational Pottstown tradition. Eric Lucas, 23, of Ellicott City, Md., can’t remember a time when his family wasn’t at the Rumble. His father Ric Lucas, along with godfather Stew Russell, twice made it to the finals in the early years of the Rumble. This year, two sets of Lucas and Russell sons continued the family tradition. In the men’s professional division, Eric Lucas partnered with 19-year-old Aaron Russell, the 6'9" middle hitter for Penn State and son of Stew Russell. David Lucas and Peter Russell have also formed a doubles partnership. They make a good team. David, 21, is a libero at George Mason, and Peter, 21, is an outside hitter at Penn State. “All four of us grew up together, watching the Rumble and watching our dads,” said Eric Lucas. “Most of the time we weren’t watching though – we were peppering or lowering the net when we were little guys so we could hit it over.”

The two Lucas-Russell teams, who regularly practice together at home in Maryland, faced each other during the Pottstown playoffs of the men’s professional division. Eric and Aaron won that match, and the duo eventually advanced to the finals, where they lost to 2011 Rumble champs Hudson Bates and Mark Burik.

“We’ve been wanting to win Pottstown our whole lives,” said Eric. “Our dads didn’t win, and we thought this might be our year.”

While the loss was a huge disappointment, Eric said the team will return and, he believes, eventually win the title. “We’ve been going there every year since we were infants,” he said. “It’s become a family tradition.”

The Faust sisters are another team of siblings who are Pottstown regulars. Danielle Faust, 16, of Reading, Pa., has been playing doubles with one of her two sisters since she first competed at the age of 11 in the women’s B division in 2007. But this year she had to choose between playing with her club team at AAU Nationals in Orlando and returning to the Rumble, where she and her sister Mary, 21, won the women’s A division last year. She chose the Rumble.

“For me, growing up playing doubles with my family, the Pottstown Rumble is the biggest tournament of the year,” she said. “That’s what I work toward, and doubles is what I want to do in college.”

Unfortunately, Danielle injured her ankle coming off of a block during her first match of pool play and was forced to withdraw from the competition. Even so, she has no regrets, and is already making plans to return next year.

“If had it to do again,” she said, “I’d still choose the Rumble.”

Originally published in October 2013

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