County plays jungle ball with beach volleyball organizers. Supervisor Hahn agrees to play setter [Updated Mar. 31, 2021]

California Beach Volleyball Association president Chris Brown and Elite Beach Volleyball coach Eric Fonoimoana are working to bring beach volleyball tournaments back this summer. Photo by Kevin Cody

by Kevin Cody

Chris Brown was relieved when he received a letter from the Los Angeles County Department of Harbors and Beaches assuring him he will be able to operate his two-decades old CampSurf this summer. But he was puzzled that the same letter denied his request to hold his CampVolley, on the grounds that beach volleyball camps were prohibited because of the pandemic.

“It made no sense. The camps are held on the same beach, in Manhattan, and neither sport involves physical contact,” Brown said.

Eric Fonoimoana received the same response when he asked the County for permission to hold beach practices for Elite Beach Volleyball, the girls club he and fellow U.S. Olympians Holly McPeak and Barbra Fontana began coaching in Manhattan Beach in 2014.

The County recently reinstalled the beach volleyball nets it took down last March, at the start of the pandemic. The ban on informal beach volleyball games has been lifted, but tournaments and team practices remain banned throughout Los Angeles County.

Several months ago, Manhattan Beach resident Dave Davis, whose daughter is an Elite Beach Volleyball player, organized fellow club parents in lobbying Los Angeles Supervisor Janice Hahn, Los Angeles Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer and Governor Gavin Newsom to permit beach volleyball tournaments.

An anonymous County “liaison” responded, in a brief email, that “any tournaments or events that involve more than two teams are not currently permitted.”

The response prompted parents to question why permissible events were determined by number of teams and not number of participants. In subsequent emails to County officials, the parents noted their sons were allowed to play high school football, a direct contact sport with as many as 50 players and coaches on a team. But their daughters could not play beach volleyball, a non contact sport with two players on a team.

A frustrated Davis wrote to Dr. Ferrer, “I have been told repeatedly by people in your office that this is a state issue and their hands are tied. And yet they have no idea whom I can contact at the state.”

Parents of student athletes in other minor sports were posing the same questions.

When the Mira Costa High football team held its first game against St. Francis, on March 12, the cheer squad was not permitted to cheer from the sidelines. The California Department of Public Health had ruled, “Sideline cheer, band, drumline or other supporting groups are not allowed to attend sporting events at this time.”

Cheer was considered a third team, and it’s presence on the sidelines would violate the two team rule, Amanda Luftman, the mother of a Mira Costa cheer team member, said she was told. Luftman promptly joined other cheer parents in a statewide protest. The following week, in time for Mira Costa’s game against Culver City, the State lifted its cheer ban.

Davis and Luftman are friends, and attorneys. Both saw the differing guidelines for football, and cheer as evidence of gender discrimination. Both also saw gender discrimination in the ban on beach volleyball tournaments and practices.

In a March 23 email to Dr. Ferrer, Davis wrote, “The decision to allow sports like football but not a girl dominated sport like beach volleyball, is not based on science, or data, and has a disparate impact on girls. It is begging for a lawsuit.”

The following day, an Elite Beach Volleyball mother (who asked her name not be used) asked Ferrer, in an email, “Why aren’t our female sports afforded the same priority as primarily male-dominated sports currently being played (football)?”

Two hours after sending her email, the mother received a response from Robert Ragland, Chief Compliance Officer, County of Los Angeles, Department of Public Health.

Davis, Fonoimoana and Brown were amazed.

Despite months of trying, none of them had received a response from anyone in authority.

“We carried the ball down the field. But this parent carried us across the goal line,” Davis said.

“I’ve been asked by Dr. Ferrer to respond to your’s and Mr. Davis’ emails about beach volleyball tournaments for youths,” Ragland wrote.

He then confirmed that State guidelines prohibited tournaments involving more than two teams.  

But he added, “State Guidance does, however, allow for exceptions to be made to the two team tournament limit by local health departments… for sports where individual competitors from multiple teams are routine such as: track and field; cross-country; golf; skiing/snowboarding; tennis; swimming/diving/surfing; biking and equestrian events.” 

Ragland then announced that, beginning March 26, the county would consider requests for waivers to the two team rule, provided the requests are submitted 14 days prior to the proposed competition.

Ragland ended his email on a conciliatory note.

“We look forward to working with tournament organizers.  Please use me as a direct contact for your questions or concerns.”

Brown and Fonoimoana saw Ragland’s response as progress, but not entirely satisfactory, nor logical.

In addition to his youth beach camps, Brown serves as president of the California Beach Volleyball Association. CBVA organizes nearly 100 Los Angeles County tournaments every summer. Fonoimoana’ Elite Beach Volleyball also hosts multiple tournaments each summer.

“We’ll work with the County. But asking us to request a waiver for every tournament is like requiring the Little League to get a waiver for every game,” Brown said.

Beach volleyball supporters had hoped the “two team” limit would be lifted next week, when Los Angeles County moved from the “Red Tier” into the less restrictive “Orange Tier.”

But that hope was quashed Tuesday, when a Los Angeles Department of Public Health spokesperson told Easy Reader in an email, “The state has not removed the limitation on two team competitions, only. Per the State, no tournaments or events that involve more than two teams may occur. However, exceptions can be made, when authorized, by the local health officer.”

In response to Brown’s concern that the County waiver process might be overly cumbersome for tournament organizers such as CBVA, which have multiple tournaments, the DPH spokesperson wrote,  “Public Health will contact multi-team competition organizers after they have submitted their application for the proposed competition. If there are issues regarding multiple and similar events or competitions from an individual applicant, Public Health will discuss those considerations with the applicant.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn offered her assistance in the waiver process in an emailed statement to Easy Reader Wednesday morning.

Hahn wrote, “Beach volleyball was clearly overlooked in the state’s guidelines that limit tournaments to two teams. The County’s waiver option should be a way to address this oversight so that beach volleyball tournaments that can be done safely are allowed this summer. But this is only going to work if the waiver process is manageable for tournament organizers, so my office is working closely with the Department of Public Health to make sure that is the case. If a tournament can be done safely, I don’t want any cumbersome application process to be the thing that stands in the way. ER

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Written by: Kevin Cody

Kevin is the publisher of Easy Reader and Beach. Share your news tips. 310 372-4611 ext. 110 or kevin[at]easyreadernews[dot]com

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