It may be miles from the ocean, but the Santa Ynez Valley now has its own world-class beach volleyball courts thanks to a coalition that includes an Olympic gold medalist, a nonprofit group that supports youth sports, local businesses, private donors and city officials.
Dubbed Sunny Beach, the trio of beach volleyball courts in Solvang’s Sunny Fields Park were declared officially open with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday, but the courts had been in use for at least a week before that.
People of all ages, including members of the Santa Ynez Volleyball Club, were digging — and serving, setting and spiking — on the courts as soon as the nets went up.
In fact, the Santa Ynez Volleyball Club has been using the courts for practice and was scheduled to take on Laguna Blanca there Thursday.
“We love the courts,” said Ketty Totemeier, a member of the club’s top two teams that were practicing even as some of those responsible for creating the courts were cutting a ribbon to officially open them about 20 yards away.
“We’re so thankful they’re here,” she said while taking a breather from practicing with fellow club players Lauren Fieldhouse, Brynn Fieldhouse and Jessica Lutz. “Last year, we were practicing in a back yard.”
The courts were the brainchild of Valley resident Todd Rogers, who with partner Phil Dalhausser won a gold medal in beach volleyball at the 2008 Olympics and a gold and a bronze, respectively, in the 2007 and 2009 World Championships.
They also were the Association of Volleyball Professionals champions every year from 2007 through 2011. Rogers is now the Cal Poly women’s beach volleyball team coach.
“It’s a fantastic facility,” said Rogers, who served as technical advisor on the project, as he watched the four girls practicing on the center court.
“The sand’s top-notch,” he continued. “It’s the same sand I use on my court. The contractors did a great job on it. I’ve yet to see any standing water here.
“And the colors pop,” he added, pointing out the bright blue net posts, orange net borders and red straps marking the court boundaries. “This has been in the works now for two-plus years.”
Rogers thought the Valley needed beach volleyball courts, and a couple of years ago, he shared his idea with Fred Lageman, director of the Solvang Parks and Recreation Department.
“Fred really got behind it and introduced me to Frank,” Rogers said.
Frank Kelsey is president of the nonprofit Santa Ynez Valley Youth Recreation, which since being formed in 1955 has provided virtually every youth sports facility in the Valley, starting with the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School pool and continuing with tennis courts, baseball diamonds and soccer fields.
“Frank took it back to his board, and they ran with it,” Rogers said. “I think it’s been great for the kids.”
Solvang Mayor Jim Richardson also expressed the city’s appreciation.
“Frank has been doing a wonderful service for the Santa Ynez Valley for many years,” he said. “We’re proud to have them bring this to fruition.”
Kelsey said his face is often the one that’s associated with Santa Ynez Valley Youth Recreation.
“But there’s a group of 10 guys on the board that make up Santa Ynez Valley Youth Recreation,” he said. “They’re the ones who do it.
“Really, it’s the product of our community who donate to our campaign,” he added. “This community gets behind us. When you’re dealing with kids, it’s carte blanche.”
Santa Ynez Valley Youth Recreation provides youth sports facilities using money raised in its annual campaign through donations from individuals, organizations and businesses, which often provide in-kind services and discounts on individual projects.
Kelsey said that was the case on this project with Bernard Hanly of Hanly Engineering and Glen Jacobsen —also a member of the SYV Youth Recreation board — of KJ Concrete Construction.
“They built it for half what it should have cost because they’re behind what we do,” Kelsey said.
Hanly’s company did the grading work and imported the sand, which was hauled in from Oceano and Guadalupe by RLF Trucking, while Jacobsen’s firm poured the concrete border around the courts to contain the sand.
Grading the site was tricky, Hanly said, because the soil is adobe, and once it gets wet it takes a long time to dry. But as the grading time approached, a storm was also on its way.
“So I went out and spent $500 to buy plastic sheeting and cover the area,” Hanly said. “And it just poured. But when we pulled off the plastic sheeting, the soil was dry. It was worth it to make this happen.”
Now that they’re complete, the courts will be turned over to the city of Solvang, whose City Council agreed to accept them about a year ago.
“The community has really embraced it,” Rogers said of Sunny Beach. “In the short time it’s been done, I’ve seen people from all gamuts and all walks of life here. You’ve got sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders out here cutting their chops, not sure of what they’re doing but they’re having fun.
“You’ve got high school kids out here at a little higher level,” he said pointing to the girls practicing on the center court.
He said he’s also seen older adults playing on it and children using it like a giant sandbox.
“When you’ve kind of devoted your whole career to one sport, it’s great to see all these people come out,” he said. “It’s cool. I’m super stoked.”