Role reversal for a cause

Six years ago, Mount Pleasant High School formed a community service club for student-athletes who were interested in donating their time but had few opportunities because of the time their sports required.

In 2008, the start-up club - called AWSUM, for Athletes Who Share Unselfish Moments - organized a benefit volleyball tournament among Mount Pleasant High's male students to raise money for the Breast Health Center at Carolinas Medical Center-NorthEast in Concord. In the three years since then, the annual event has raised more than $6,000.

After last year's tournament, event organizers and school system officials decided it was too good an idea for Mount Pleasant to keep it to itself. So on Oct. 26, for the first time, the fourth annual "King of the Court" tournament will be open to teams of male students from other high schools in Cabarrus County.

Two weeks ago, Mike Landers, faculty adviser for the Mount Pleasant AWSUM Club, said he had received commitments from teams representing Concord and Central Cabarrus high schools. He was hanging onto the hope that other area schools would register before the tournament next week.

The concept of a boys volleyball tournament was spawned from a breast cancer awareness movement that started with the Mount Pleasant girls varsity volleyball team in 2008. That season, the Tigers started wearing all-pink uniforms at home and collecting donations for CMC-NorthEast's center.

In its infancy, the Mount Pleasant AWSUM Club - other Cabarrus high schools have their own AWSUM clubs - supported other charitable efforts, such as Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and local food banks.

With the volleyball team's help, the club thought of hosting a sports event in the spirit of traditional "powder puff" games, in which female students play football, a nontraditional sport for girls. Members looked to volleyball - traditionally a girls' sport - for the male equivalent of a powder puff game.

Members of Mount Pleasant's varsity volleyball team train and coach the rag-tag boys teams that play in the tournament.

Four teams of face-painted, pink-shirt-wearing boys played in the first year's King of the Court tournament. Organizers asked for a $3 donation per person at the door, and AWSUM Club members sold their own concessions. Landers said it raised about $1,500.

As the 2011-12 AWSUM Club president, Mandy Kluttz has been instrumental in coordinating this year's tournament. She's a four-year member of the Mount Pleasant volleyball program. She and Tigers teammate Katelyn Cline coach a King of the Court team named the Rice Pickers.

"Coaching, it's crazy," she said. "The guys come in and are all excited. Last year they had no experience with volleyball. They are clueless. ... We try to explain how to pass and set without the ball going out of bounds.

"We have to teach them. But they are cooperative and attentive and pay attention to what we say. It's a lot of fun to see the guys commit to a sport that's normally for girls."

Kluttz has also helped recruit teams from other schools. In her nursing class at the Cabarrus College of Health Sciences, she mentioned it to fellow student Myers Jones, who promptly coordinated separate teams of seniors and juniors from Concord High.

"(The Concord student council) does a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation dodge ball event(in the spring)," said Jones, a senior. "It has raised a bunch of money, and we hope to raise a bunch of money for this cause as well."

This year the tournament has experienced such a demand that it's now divided into senior and junior divisions. For the first time, Mount Pleasant was scheduled to host a play-in tournament for its own teams Saturday10/15 for the right to represent the school in the King of the Court tournament on Oct. 26.

The King of the Court winning team will keep hang onto a plaque with its name inscribed on it until next year's tournament.