Scoping out Puerto Rico for the AAU Grand Prix
I knew I was in an exciting place when the passengers all broke out into mad clapping as the plane landed in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I gave the flight attendant a perplexed look and she blurted out, “it happens every time”. So I found myself joining in on the clapping. Why not?
It was this type of enthusiasm that gets us fired up to host our first girl’s volleyball tournament on the Isle of Enchantment with AAU and OVA in mid-January.
My time here was limited so my objective was to view the shiny, new San Juan Convention Center (our venue for the AAU Grand Prix), meet with as many potential sponsors and clubs, and visit our Rox sponsored pro team, the Corozal Pinkins.
My first stop was the Caribe Hilton where you are greeted by colorful parrots and ubiquitous iguanas. It’s a paradise complete with an inviting hammock hung between two coconut palms next to the ocean. Luckily, this is the location where the AAU is holding their informational meeting on the tournament and a free scorekeepers clinic on October 26th. If you are in the area on that day, I’m sure you’ll find Debby and Yvonne in the Salon Del Mar talking shop.
I hear, “ Jump in, comrade!” Forget a rental car when I have my personal tour guide and former local, Danny from the Orlando Volleyball Academy in his old Suzuki navigating and weaving through the narrow streets with speed and aplomb.
Our 1st meeting was with Angel at the San Juan Convention Center. Since it’s been a while since I’ve brushed up on my Espanol, I found myself talking to people in a bad Spanish accent to communicate better. There was no need for that as Angel showed us how to best lay out the 14 courts and sponsor spaces for our 130 team tournament. We were impressed by the sweeping views of Old San Juan and Condado Lake from the convention center’s balcony.
It was a Saturday and it seemed volleyball was being played all over the island. Carrying two big bags of Rox apparel samples, Danny took me from club tournament to club tournament so I could show my wares. It was awesome to see volleyball enthusiasts commenting positively on our selection of vibrant jersey colors and the quality and breathability of our fabrics.
Puertorriquenos have a real passion for volleyball. I spoke to a volleyball mom who told me she had been at the tournament for 10 hours straight to support her kids. Then she pointed out with laughter a number of parents who had done the same. I saw cute kids as young as 4 years old participating in volleyball clinics. Young 12 year old boys teams screamed with competitiveness as they channeled “Picky” Soto and floated to the net for the kill. It was approaching dark and the teams continued to show up en masse. I can see even with volleyball’s current popularity here, it has a huge potential for growth fueled by this next generation.
Our trip ended with a meeting with our good friend Evelyn, owner of the Corozal Pinkins. We sat back as she showed us with pride the videos of her 2010 champion girls decked out in our pink Rox jerseys. She oozed passion for the sport, it’s fans and her team’s winning history. After showing me a packed coliseum of 8,000 spectators I came to the realization of why they call Corozal “La Cuna del Voleibol” or The Cradle of Volleyball. The moniker is fitting.
Oh San Juan, we’re looking forward to seeing you again in January where we can escape the cold and enjoy some of your 80 degree weather and breathe in your cooling trade winds.