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Saikley Sorely Missed at Manhattan Beach

Times Staff Writer

The Manhattan Beach Open begins today with all the pomp befitting the crown jewel of the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals, but it’s also shrouded in sadness.

This will be the first Manhattan Beach Open played without Charlie Saikley, the “godfather of beach volleyball.” Saikley died of cancer in June at 69.

“It’s going to be really strange this year,” said Karch Kiraly, who has won the Manhattan Beach Open a record eight times. “It’s not going to feel quite like Manhattan without him. His smile and love of the game will definitely be missed.”

Saikley earned his nickname primarily through his work at the Manhattan Beach Open.

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In the ‘60s and ‘70s, as volleyball was working its way to the beach and before the AVP entered the scene, tournaments popped up on dozens of Southern California beaches.

Saikley ran the Manhattan Beach tournament. He had the final say about court assignments, referee assignments and team seedings. Sometimes, when play extended into evening, he organized cars to shine their headlights on the court, so play could continue.

He allowed 128 teams to play, the most of any other tournament, yet always managed to finish in a weekend. He quickly became known as the best in the business and all the great players made it a point to play at Manhattan Beach.

“It was the one tournament every player would go to and that’s why it became such a big tournament,” Kiraly said. “Charlie was the reason. He turned it into the Wimbledon of beach volleyball.”

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AVP Commissioner Leonard Armato said Saikley’s influence reached far beyond the sands of Manhattan. He said Saikley recognized the attraction of the California beach culture and had the foresight to promote it as part of beach volleyball.

“He set the tone for the beach lifestyle component ... " Armato said. “The Manhattan Beach Open wouldn’t be what it is today without his contribution, but neither would the AVP or the Southern California image.”

Saikley worked for the Manhattan Beach Recreation and Parks Department for more than 40 years and was still involved with the tournament after the AVP took over in 1983. He oversaw such projects as immortalizing Manhattan Beach Open winners by placing plaques with their names on the Manhattan Beach Pier.

The “Walk of Fame” -- the only shrine of its kind in beach volleyball -- added women’s tournament winners late last year, at Saikley’s urging. Two weeks ago at the Manhattan Beach Six-Man tournament, a Saikley creation, a team of Manhattan Beach legends paid homage to Saikley by wearing shirts silk-screened with his likeness.

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The AVP tournament continues to grow even after Saikley’s death. Wednesday night, the city and the AVP conducted a past champions’ dinner during which it honored legends Gene Selznick, Mike Bright, Mike O’Hara, Nina Mathies, Kathy Gregory and Miki McFadden.

Plans are for the dinner to become an annual affair. More such special events could be added for the days leading up to the tournament.

“It’ll be more like Manhattan Beach Open week instead of just the weekend,” Kiraly said.

The tournament is important enough that it deserves that, Kiraly said.

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“If a player had to pick one tournament to win in their career, they would pick Manhattan,” Kiraly said. “It’s the one everyone wants to win.”

Mostly, that’s because of the efforts of one man: Charlie Saikley.


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