Friendly volleyball grows in lake area

Handshakes shared between members of teams named "Sets on the Beach" and "the Sand Sharks" indicated play was over, but the volleyballs continued to fly on Court No. 2 at Blythe Landing on Lake Norman.

As members of a co-ed recreational league, the teams didn't need the full hour scheduled to complete their three-game match. So just for the fun of it, and to get their money's worth, the two sides continued to play for another 10 minutes before being run off the court for the night.

You're likely to see as much widespread fellowship and camaraderie as you are spikes and digs on the sand courts at the Mecklenburg County park in Cornelius. All In Play, a private entity, coordinates nightly league matches in various levels of play during spring and summer.

Huntersville resident Kevin Falank, 39, founded All In Play in 2003 so area residents would have a league to play in without having to travel to Charlotte. Most players are from the towns surrounding Lake Norman, which is a couple of minutes' walk from Blythe Landing.

Summer and winter leagues also are held at Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatics. Participation at both locations is most popular among a crowd of social men and women in their 20s and 30s, but the age range spans from a minimum of 16 to people in their 60s.

Shawn Hartle, a 24-year-old from Huntersville, said he was a "sports junkie" growing up but had never played competitive volleyball until a co-worker invited him to play with his QC Crew team at Blythe Landing three weeks ago. Now he's hooked.

"It's fun," he said. "It's definitely good to come out and sweat, and to meet new people."

There are co-ed leagues and those for either men or women. There is play for teams of six, four or two players. Team fees are based on the number of players on a team.

The six-on-six leagues are purely recreational, though teams still play for league championships. The fewer players there are, such as in the four-on-four and two-on-two leagues, the more competitive the play.

"The recreational league is for people that want to have fun," said Derrick Wynes, an All In Play site coordinator at Blythe Landing. "But I've seen people improve and move up leagues. There are a lot of entry-level players, but they get help and improve their skills."

There are no referees at any level, so players are trusted to call rule violations. Players say the honor system holds up and represents how well teammates and opponents get along.

"I haven't met a volleyball player I don't like," said Tim Nohr, 52, of Huntersville. "There's something about people who play volleyball; they're team-oriented. (They are) people I like to hang around with."

Many teams are formed out of friendships or among co-workers. If you don't have a team but want to play, Falank will find you a "house team" to play on. Sometimes house teams stay intact and recruit other players into the league.

Nohr and Michael Helms, 50, of Cornelius have remained teammates since they played on the same house team in 2009. This summer they are members of the Sand Sharks recreational team and are also teammates on higher-level intermediate squads.

Helms helped make the Sand Sharks an intergenerational team when he invited his daughter and son-in-law, Michelle and Bryan Thomas, to play this summer.

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