Volleyball Mutation Gives Off-the-Wall Workout

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

American Wallyball Assn. (AWA) Commissioner Mary Ann Bentley of Mission Viejo knows exactly what to do with a deserted racquetball court: "You string an 8-foot-high net across the middle of it," says Bentley, "then you round up four to eight people who want great fun, intense competition and a decent workout all in one package, and you play wallyball."

Bentley says President Bush plays wallyball. She produces a copy of the an issue of Time magazine as proof. "And U.S. News & World Report has listed it in its annual health guide as a general fitness activity."

Practically speaking, wallyball is more or less volleyball played on a racquetball court, except that a volleyball generally comes screaming down on you from the fist of some Wilt Chamberlain spiker type, while a well-hit racquetball is almost impossible to retrieve from any angle, even if you're a short, catlike human who can ricochet about the court.

A wallyball, on the other hand, bobs, thwacks, booms and floats all over the place--from every angle and dimension--in long, satisfying rallies that leave participants of all shapes and sizes both exhausted and exhilarated. The wallyball itself is like a lightweight volleyball made of the same material used to make racquetballs.

Goofy name and all, wallyball is a sport that seems tailored for Joe and Jan Everyman.

"I prefer it to volleyball because ball handling and placement are more important than pure power," says Bentley, who has been active in the sport since learning it from a relative in Oregon four years ago.

"Not only that," says American Wallyball Assn. Vice President Pete Benavente, "in wallyball you can make up for lack of height with quickness and you can make up for a lack of quickness by putting funny spins on the ball so that it comes off the wall weird."

Benavente adds that a team of senior wallyballers in his hometown of Monterey routinely "giggle their heads off" when their ball-spinning high-jinks confuse and confound much younger players.

Benavente was in Orange County this weekend for Bentley's AWA sponsored wallyball clinic and exhibition at L.A. Fitness in Anaheim. He says that recreational wallyball is scored just like volleyball: "Games are to 15, win by 2, only the server scores."

The differences between the two sports, says Benavente, tend to keep the ball in play longer on each rally, and that's what makes wallyball such satisfying competition/exercise for those who know how to play the angles.

"When you're attacking the ball, you can bounce it off any one wall except the back wall," says Benavente. "But when you're retrieving a ball hit to your side, the ball stays 'live' no matter what wall it hits. The other thing is that a bad pass doesn't kill a wallyball rally--it just bounces off a wall, back toward the players and stays in play."

Those who think that wallyball players are nothing more than short, slow-moving volleyball washouts would do well to consider the results of the AWA exhibition match. AWA's three-man championship Dreyers team (sponsored by the dessert company of the same name) creamed a group of local volleyball hotshots who call themselves Dain Bramage.

"(The score was) 15-6, 15-6, 15-6," muttered Dain Bramage team captain Ric Jennings after the slaughter.

Dreyers' most dominant player, Dan Parr of Pacific Palisades, is a devastating blocker/spiker who plays competitive volleyball and championship level wallyball. "I have more fun playing wallyball," says Parr, "partly because our team always wins, but also because I enjoy the challenge of the quicker play, reading shots off the wall, and the sharper hitting angles you can take to avoid blocks."

While Parr admits that the quality of play is significantly higher in competitive volleyball, he quickly points out that recreational wallyball offers the same social benefits as recreational volleyball. Like volleyball, wallyball is well-suited to co-ed play. The main difference is that three-person teams (as opposed to six-person teams) are best suited for the smaller shape and dimensions of a wallyball court.

"Regular co-ed play involves two men and one woman," says Benavente, "and the rules are the same as the regular men's game. But we also have 'reverse co-ed,' which is two women and one man."

Reverse co-ed wallyball is played with the net at 7 feet 4 inches rather than 8 feet, and the rules virtually nail the male feet to the ground. "Men are allowed to set and dig," says Bentley. "But they aren't allowed to jump and spike. It keeps things more interesting for the women players."

Benavente says wallyball was invented about 12 years ago in Carlsbad by Joe Garcia, who was part of a group of beach volleyball players looking for a place to play in foul weather. Because there is more foul weather in the East and Midwest, wallyball quickly migrated to those areas, where it grew quickly. At the same time the sport pretty much declined in sunny California.

About five years ago, says Benavente, current AWA President Rudy Morel reactivated the sport in Northern California, particularly the Modesto area. "Morel started doing a bunch of wallyball clinics," says Benavente, "out of love for the sport. He's the main reason wallyball is growing again in California."

Locally, there are a number of health clubs/racquetball clubs that offer wallyball on a regular basis: Rossmoor Athletic Club in Seal Beach; L.A. Fitness in Anaheim; Racquetball World in Santa Ana and Fountain Valley; Los Caballeros Sports Village in Fountain Valley; Irvine Club House in Irvine; Canyon Terrace Racquetball in Anaheim and Saddleback Courts in Mission Viejo all offer wallyball, typically one day a week. Bentley plays at the Marguerite Recreation Center in Mission Viejo and says that Saddleback College offers wallyball classes.

"There's even a Pay N' Play on Ridge Route in El Toro that is set up for wallyball," says Bentley.

For more information on wallyball, call Mary Ann Bentley (714) 454-2551.

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