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D.C.'s Capitol Hill Classic can attest club volleyball tournaments are big business

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Every weekend, at this time of year, thousands of teenage girls invade cities like yours.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE BLOWING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPECTATORS: Whoo.

UNIDENTIFIED SPECTATOR: (Shouting, inaudible).

FADEL: You might not even notice, but club volleyball tournaments are big. Washington, D.C., recently hosted the Capitol Hill Classic with more than 10,000 players. NPR's Chad Campbell reports.

CHAD CAMPBELL, BYLINE: One volleyball game can be loud. Here, in the basement of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, this cavernous room has 75 games all at once.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Chanting) Ooh, ah, ooh, ah, ooh-ah ay, (inaudible).

CAMPBELL: The chaos is barely contained on each court. Volleyballs are bouncing and flying everywhere - and so many whistles.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLES BLOWING)

EMMA SANCHEZ: It's very big, and it's very different from Puerto Rico.

CAMPBELL: That's 12-year-old Emma Sanchez - a player with Kali Beach Volleyball Club. She's at the tournament with her little sister, mom and dad.

EMMA: This is my first time being in Washington. I love how big it is, and it's super cold in here.

CAMPBELL: Chatting with members of this team, the weather came up a lot.

GEIDY LOPEZ: We can still go to the beach in Puerto Rico if it's snowing here (laughter).

CAMPBELL: Geidy Lopez is the team mom. Her daughter, Dashelle (ph), is Emma's teammate.

LOPEZ: They've been having an experience here - not just volleyball.

(CHEERING)

CAMPBELL: The team visited the White House, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and lots of other famous sites.

LOPEZ: They even played volleyball in the garden of the Archives. So they've been doing a lot of things - learning more, become better players and better human beings, which is the most important thing that they are going to get from these kind of tournaments.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: (Chanting) Wah (ph).

BONNIE GOLDBERG: It develops all the things that we want these girls to take with them into college and into their careers, into parenting.

CAMPBELL: Bonnie Goldberg helped start this tournament 17 years ago and still runs it today.

GOLDBERG: Girls volleyball is so unique. You have a net in between, and so they can be aggressive. They can be feminine. You can be strong. You can be competitive and stay on your own side of the court. Once they start playing, they usually don't stop.

CAMPBELL: Goldberg played and coached volleyball at the collegiate level and knows the benefits of youth sports.

GOLDBERG: I love seeing young girls conquer hard things. When they do that, something has changed in them. And the next hard thing that comes along, they know they are capable of doing this.

CAMPBELL: Tournaments like this also add a spike to local economies. According to Destination DC, the city's official tourism site, last year's Capitol Hill Classic brought $21.3 million to Washington.

GOLDBERG: We are using about 80 hotels for this event. With girls, they tend to travel as a family - that just means more hotel room nights, a bigger bill at the restaurant. It seems to be a little bit bigger travel party.

CAMPBELL: And you can see that during the games.

(CHEERING)

CAMPBELL: Younger siblings sprawled on the floor with coloring books, older brothers tossing a football in the corner - Geidy Lopez says there are only 10 players on the Kali Beach team, but 34 people made the trip from Puerto Rico.

LOPEZ: Yeah. Hotel, food, transportation, flight tickets, the tournament, the uniforms, the bags - everything.

CAMPBELL: But Lopez says this trip was definitely worth the expense.

LOPEZ: They grow as an athlete. They grow as girls. They make new friends. So I think that's the most important thing here. If they win, that's good. If they don't, we had a lot of fun. That's enough for us.

CAMPBELL: The team had plenty of fun. They also flew back to Puerto Rico as this year's champions of the 12-and-under division.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #3: (Chanting) Hey, hey.

CAMPBELL: This weekend, Las Vegas, Atlanta and Chicago are hosting tournaments.

Chad Campbell, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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