Seeing the avalanche of people pouring onto Cedar Beach in Babylon, one would think it’s 9 a.m. on a sweltering August Saturday. But it’s a weekday evening — and the masses are coming to play beach volleyball.
The Long Island Volleyball Association runs recreational leagues on the sand six nights a week between Cedar Beach, Robert Moses State Park and Jones Beach. Cedar Beach is the association's biggest location, with 70 courts operating at once, drawing 210 teams and more than 1,000 players at 6 p.m. on any given weeknight.
The neon yellow nets are set out in rows between the ocean waves and the Salt Shack outdoor restaurant, which typically has bands playing on its deck at the same time. Teams are coed; they are six-verses-six, four-verses-four or two-verses-two, and the sport draws players spanning all ages and athletic abilities from beginner to expert. As teams develop a record, they are matched against other teams of their level of expertise -- or lack thereof.
“The atmosphere here is pretty incredible. There’s always live music, you play different teams, you don’t have to wear shoes … it’s a good time,” says Rob Kiley-Rendon, 38, a high school science teacher from Massapequa Park. Kiley-Rendon brought his three daughters, ages 8, 7 and 5 to be his team’s fan club one recent Tuesday, giving his husband, Patrick, the night off to do whatever he wanted.
“This is the one you can play forever,” Kiley-Rendon says of the sport of volleyball. Jokes Judy DiFranco, 60, a paralegal from Mt. Sinai who plays on a different team, “I’m the living proof it doesn’t matter if you’re old.”
‘YOU GOT SERVED!’
The Long Island Volleyball Association, commonly referred to as LIVA, isn’t the only beach league on Long Island. East End Volleyball, which launched on Tiana Beach in Hampton Bays 46 years ago, now runs leagues in Hampton Bays and Long Beach, for instance, says East End Volleyball founder and league director Richard Heiles. East End Volleyball has play every weeknight at one location or the other from Memorial Day through Labor Day, with 11 nets in Hampton Bays and 72 in Long Beach, Heiles say. Teams play $850 for the season, he says.
LIVA offers full-season and half-season play at Jones Beach and Robert Moses. At Jones Beach, because it has outdoor lighting, teams can opt to to start play at 8 p.m., says Joseph Estrining, managing director/owner of LIVA, who began the league in 1998. Its teams pay between $400 and $740.
Smaller leagues operate on sand courts at various town parks and private marinas.
The names in the leagues are often creative, with teams choosing plays on words that feature volleyball terms such as set, serve, ace, bump and spike. Names, for instance, include You Got Served! and The Empire Spikes Back. Some names are self-deprecating: At Least We Tried or Bad Knees.
“This volleyball season I wait for the whole year,” says Miguel Cuellar, 49, of Brentwood, who works in construction and plays at Cedar Beach on Tuesdays. He and teammate Antonio Del Valle, 54, of Huntington, a salesperson for a grocery store chain, play in indoor leagues during the winter, but say the outdoors can be more of a challenge and more fun.
For instance, one recent Tuesday evening was extremely windy. That doesn’t happen in a controlled environment indoors. Instead of doing their usual three-player combination of bump, set, then spike over the net, the team will just try to somehow get the ball over, says Philip Handler, 36, of North Babylon, who plays on a team called Vibin' Volleys with co-workers from BBS Architects, Landscape Architects and Engineers in Patchogue. “Tonight, there’s no planning anything,” he says, because the wind will take the ball in unexpected directions.
BEACH? YES, PLEASE
Handler says he likes having nights out with his colleagues. “It’s good to get everybody out of the office,” he says. Teammate Jaclyn Ruggiero, 26, an architect from Bayport who plays on the BBS team, says if she goofs on the court, she might take some ribbing the next day at work, but it’s all in fun. “I just love being able to come down here after work and get to see this many people, especially after COVID,” she says.
Eddie Bartley, 31, a police officer who graduated from Bethpage High School in 2008 and still lives in Bethpage, plays on a team with fellow Bethpage High graduates.
He says he loves the friendly atmosphere, and the excuse to get to the beach on weeknights to make summer seem longer. “We don’t get a lot of summer months on Long Island so it’s something to do on the weekdays,” Bartley says.
Bartley’s teammate Dan Lentini, 32, also a police officer and a 2007 Bethpage graduate, says he loves the summer vibe. “I wouldn’t like it as much if it wasn’t on the beach.” Echoes team player and fellow Bethpage High alum Alex Strahan, 32, a tool store supervisor: “Anything to do with the beach, I’m in.”