BABY COURT ORAL HISTORIES

Danny Alvarez talks story with OCC members about the Baby Court
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Baby Court with Alika Williams


Baby Court with Kawika Shoji

Baby Court with Trevor Crabb
 

The Baby Court

"The Birthplace of Champions"

The Outrigger Canoe Club holds a long and storied place in national and international volleyball history. This tiny club has produced Olympic volleyball gold, silver and bronze medalists, 12 volleyball Olympians, over 25 NCAA Men’s Volleyball champions, dozens of college All-Americans, NCAA players of the year, NCAA Championship MVPs, countless AAU and USA Volleyball champions and All-Americans and numerous AVP, NORCECA and FIVB champions. Although many factors contribute to the Club’s success, the one constant has been the Baby Court at the Club where so many of these champions got their volleyball start.

     

The Baby Court is tucked away on the makai (ocean) side of the volleyball courts above the snack bar. The court is approximately 18 feet wide and 47 feet long. The net height is approximately 7 feet high. When first observed, the Baby Court is unremarkable and little does one grasp the greatness this little piece of real estate has produced. However, to the volleyball community, the Baby Court is sacred ground and the most influential volleyball court in the world. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Outrigger junior members have spent hours upon hours on the Baby Court. Baby Courters can roughly be described as junior members who grew up playing on the Court anywhere from 8 to 14 or 15 years old when the smaller court would have the most influence on their development. Members who joined the Club at 16, 17 or 18 or started playing volleyball at later ages probably were not influenced much by the Baby Court. One thing is certain, the Baby Court has produced an incredible number of champions in the sport of volleyball.
Social media has recently brought the Baby Court much needed attention as it has been producing world class volleyball talent for the better part of the last century. A review of its beginnings and history sheds some light on how it achieved its renowned status.

Beach volleyball was first played in 1915 at the old Outrigger Canoe Club located in the center of Waikiki next to the property where the Royal Hawaiian Hotel would be built in 1927. On a day when the surf was flat, famed Club Captain George “Dad” Center strung a volleyball net over the sand between the surfboard lockers and the canoe shed at the Club and instantly invented beach volleyball. Variations of the game developed at different locations throughout the world but the origin of game at the Outrigger is well documented. The game became an immediate hit at the Club amongst the members. Hawaii’s greatest athlete, Duke Kahanamoku, was an avid and skilled participant.

Beach volleyball soon became an integral part of life at the Outrigger with two courts constructed in front of the old Hau Tree lanai. As described in “Outrigger Canoe Club, the First Hundred Years,” the official history of the Club - “Each afternoon a sizeable group of gentlemen, attired in suits and ties, and hats drove from downtown Honolulu to the Outrigger Canoe Club. They emerged from the locker room in bathing suits and proceeded to the volleyball courts for the daily exercise. Later, a small court was added for children.”

This first Baby Court was no doubt created to keep the junior members from interfering with the exercise of the pillars of Honolulu business. In recalling his days as a junior member in the 1920’s and 1930’s, Past President Thad Ekstrand confirmed this notion: “If we were able to get on the volleyball courts at all, we were lucky . . . you know they’d chase us off.” Tire magnate Lex Brodie was a little more blunt in his recollection: “If there wasn’t any surf then we’d be, I believe, learning our way about the volleyball court until the big boys came in around four o’clock or four-fifteen and then they’d kick our little butts out of there, and they would take over the court.”

When the Club was rebuilt in 1941, the volleyball courts, including a Baby Court for juniors, were a key part of the layout directly in the middle of the Club. What started as a playpen to keep junior members out of the way turned into an incubator for world class volleyball talent. Young members who cut their teeth on the old Baby Court included future Winged “O” recipients Peter Balding, Sr. and Ron Sorrell. Also part of the group were Jack Campbell, Pat O’Connor, Bill Capp and Pat Wyman. Games amongst juniors were coupled with “take on all comers” matches against former Club President Ernest Tucker “Chippy” Chase who, even in his 50’s, was “unbeatable” one on one on the Baby Court using technique that would not be recognized in today’s volleyball world according to Sorrell and Balding. The Club’s most loved volleyball player, Tom “Daddy” Haine did not show up until he was 17 when he moved to Hawaii from North Dakota. While Daddy did not grow up playing on the Baby Court, he undoubtedly bounced a few balls on that small court during his time.

At the old Club, beach volleyball fit perfectly into the Outrigger family lifestyle with athletic members learning the game on the Baby Court as juniors, then moving to the big court with some members ultimately elevating their game to national and international prominence. Paul MacLaughlin epitomized the classic Outrigger athlete. MacLaughlin grew up at the old Club and learned to surf in Waikiki and play volleyball on the Baby Court. MacLaughlin went on to legendary status representing the Club on National Championship volleyball teams and on winning Molokai to Oahu canoe crews. Miki Briggs McFadden, another great all-around Outrigger athlete, recalls “I got my start playing volleyball on the old baby court at the Outrigger in Waikiki. Probably about 1960. I was playing mixed doubles with all of the gremmies at the Old Club. It was a big part of our day when the surf wasn’t up. If you won, you stayed on, so we played to win.” A young Dodge Parker learned volleyball at the Club and went on to become an All-American at Long Beach State and was deemed the best setter in the USA by Sports Illustrated in 1973.

McFadden and Daddy Haine became the first volleyball Olympians who grew up at the Club when they represented the USA at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Haine was captain of that Olympic team and would later be inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame with the honor of being named an “All Time Great” by the United States Volleyball Association. After a career at USC, McFadden went on to dominate the women’s beach volleyball circuit in the 1970’s with her partner Kathy Gregory earning 15 open victories and induction into the California Beach Volleyball Association Beach Hall of Fame and she was also named an “All Time Great.” Parker played on the 1976 USA volleyball team which did not qualify for the Montreal Olympics and tragically passed away at the young age of 29.

When the Club moved to its present site at Diamond Head in 1964, the Baby Court almost never made it. Much planning was required to fit the Club into the relatively tight space of the new property. Sorrell, tasked with planning the volleyball courts to match the 2 big court, 1 baby court configuration of the old Club, described the fight:

I couldn’t duplicate two large courts and a small. So, I battled – no, we have to have a small. I’ll give you the big one and we’ll have a small court and was asked “Why a small one?” I said it goes back to where it all starts. That baby court was where we all learned to play. We’d go out there and we’d destroy each other. We’d call each other names and we’d hit, and that’s where the game started. If you can live through baby court spirit-wise, then you go up to the bigger court – you are going to be a great volleyball player. So, I said I’ll give you one big one but I have to have a small one. Long story. I finally got two big courts, they gave me some parking stalls and then I got the small one . . .

Once in place, the Baby Court became the social center for Outrigger junior members who surfed, paddled and played volleyball during the long summer days. It was routinely standing room only as the ledge to the side of the court and walls behind the court were lined with juniors of all shapes and sizes. According to Peter Balding, Jr., the Baby Court was the model of “social Darwinism” where you either found a way to succeed or were eaten up by older, more aggressive junior members. A young junior could sit for hours with his name on the chalkboard hanging on the Diamond Head fence waiting for winners when an older junior would walk up and write his name at the top of the list thereby being next up. When you finally got on the court, you did everything you could to win or it would be a very long afternoon waiting for another turn.

This “survival of the fittest” culture created highly competitive games and great talent. Games were played for cokes or milkshakes from the snack bar creating more incentive to win - or not to lose. Games often had their own rules such as taking serves with your hands or balls played off the fence or ledge. Lots of games were one on one where you took a serve with your hands and then again set to yourself before spiking it over. Games also included “button and ace” where a player was assigned a “button” every time a ball would hit his side of the sand without being at least touched by that player. 7 buttons would lose. A loser would then have to drop his shorts and run a circle around all three courts. There was no greater motivation to touch every ball than the fear of running naked in front of all your cheering peers.

The skills learned during the hours and hours on the Baby Court produced legendary Outrigger players including Peter Balding Jr., Marc Haine, Jay Anderson, Jon Andersen, Kainoa Downing, Peter Ehrman, Scott Rolles, Billy Berger, John Hedlund, Kilo Baird, Scott and Mark Rigg. Many of these members made a huge impact on the men’s collegiate volleyball world in the late ‘70’s and ‘80’s. The success of this particular group paved the path for Outrigger juniors to play major college volleyball. In the 1978 NCAA Championship match, the Pepperdine with 5 Baby Courters on its roster (Mark Rigg, Scott Rigg, John Zabriskie, Jay Anderson, Peter Balding, and Kilo Baird) defeated UCLA with 2 Baby Courters (Scott Rolles and Peter Ehrman) on its roster.

Two other fierce competitors during the 1970’s time were Traci Phillips and Kisi Haine who had no problem mixing it up with the boys. Haine went to Stanford and later became a fixture on Outrigger championship paddling crews. A multi-sport athlete, Phillips went on to compete in three Olympics – in kayaking.

As the ‘80’s and ‘90’s progressed, the Outrigger spigot was open and flowing with talent. Hugh Foster and Tony McInerny went from playing one on one on the Baby Court to lead perhaps the most physically dominant Punahou School boys’ volleyball team in history then to San Diego State. Baby Court graduates were sought by top collegiate programs and many went on to dominate NCAA volleyball. NCAA championships and All-America honors became common for Outrigger members. Matt and Doug Rigg learned on the Baby Court then followed their brothers Mark and Scott in winning NCAA Championships at Pepperdine. Owen McKibbin starred at Punahou and USC, played on the pro beach tour then became a successful actor and fitness model. Stein Metzger, who grew up at the Club, was a three-time national champion at UCLA, three time All American and NCAA MVP. In addition, with the advent of the pro beach volleyball tour in the late ‘80’s and 90’s, Outrigger members who grew up at the Club or joined the Club as juniors made a huge impact on the tour. In addition to Metzger, Outrigger players from this era included Sean Scott, Kaione Crabb, Alika Williams, Lee LeGrande, Stevie Li, Wayne Seligson, Kevin Wong, Scott Wong, Mike Lambert, J. J. Riley, Dylan Fern, Kanoa Ostrem and Danny McInerny, among many others. The Berg sisters, Lindsey and Erin started playing at the Club and each went on to play at the highest levels. Lia Young Hunt went on to star at Santa Clara University and compete on the women’s AVP tour. Parker McLachlin played many games as a youngster on the Baby Court then went away to star in college golf at UCLA and later won on the PGA tour.

After a 20 plus year hiatus, the Outrigger boasted volleyball Olympians in Lambert indoors in two Olympics, Metzger and Wong on the beach and Lindsey Berg winning indoor silver in two Olympics on the women’s side. Each of those Olympians were influenced to different degrees by the Baby Court. Also produced in that era was a young, gangly Clay Stanley who grew up on the Baby Court, never played high school volleyball, starred at the University of Hawaii and was a three-time Olympian. In 2008, Stanley was named the best indoor player in the world after leading the United States to the Gold Medal in Beijing, China.

Sometime in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a volleyball perfect storm took place. Prominent Hawaii volleyball families named Shoji, McLachlin, Crabb, Cote, McKibbin (McInerny), Haine, Jenkins and Ehrman all had sons within a period of 3 – 5 years. Already exposed to high level volleyball at home, Kawika Shoji, Erik Shoji, Spencer McLachlin, Mikey Cote, Riley McKibbin, Maddison McKibbin, Jacob Jenkins, Taylor Crabb, Trevor Crabb, Reese Haine and Will Ehrman naturally gravitated to the Baby Court as youngsters for day care Outrigger style. Brad Lawson and Tri Bourne, also from old Outrigger families, showed up about that time for the fierce daily battles. This group dominated Hawaii high school volleyball and with the help of an all-star parent coaching staff, these members made a huge impact on the USA junior volleyball scene and later continued the Club’s major presence on the collegiate volleyball world at their respective schools. In 2010, Stanford won the NCAA championship with Baby Courters Spencer McLachlin, Erik Shoji, Kawika Shoji, Brad Lawson and Jordan Inafuku in the lineup.

Lawson was named the Co-Most Outstanding player (with Kawika Shoji) of the Championship match when he had 24 kills in 28 attempts in the championship match. It is no coincidence that Lawson was described as “unbeatable” on the Baby Court. The McKibbin brothers and Bourne reached two national championship matches at USC. Taylor Crabb was named the NCAA Player of the Year at Long Beach State in 2013.

This incredibly talented group is featured by Travis Mewhirter in his fine book on the pro beach tour, “We Were Kings”. In the book, Mewhirter describes a day at the Outrigger Baby Court:

We’re going to a birthday party.

Its either 1999 or 2000. Taylor Crabb can’t remember exactly. Since that day in 1915 [when the Outrigger Canoe Club was founded], Outrigger has built three beach volleyball courts, though today, the two courts reserved for the adults are not where the action is. Just to the side you’ll find what has become affectionately known as the “baby court”, which is, as always, teeming with youngsters.

“When you’re nine, ten, eleven, all the way to fifteen, that’s the court you want to play on,” said Riley McKibbin, “because you can hit the all over the net and you don’t even have to run down a high line shot because it’s like three steps away.”

On this occasion, the baby court is packed for Reese Haine’s birthday, for which his father has arranged a 2-on-2 tournament.

Look there, it’s McKibbin and Bourne. They’re the geezers of the group – almost teenagers! It explains why they’re playing together. And there’s Trevor Crabb and Brad Lawson, too. As for the youngsters? That’s Taylor Crabb and Riley’s kid brother Maddison. Another set of brothers, Erik and Kawika Shoji have scored invites as well.

Take a snapshot of this precious crew. You may never see another one like it.

Fast forward again, all the way to 2016. That little birthday crew? They have blossomed into the most formidable group of volleyball players in the world. All in all, in 2016 alone, the nine kids in attendance at that party would go on to combine for eight AVP finals, eight AVP semifinals, four NORCECA wins, eight top five finishes on the FIVB Tour, one beach Olympic qualification, 10 additional AVP main draws, and two indoor Olympic bronze medals.

Merwhirter’s description captures the essence of the Baby Court culture and highlights the role that the magical court has played on the development of Outrigger volleyball athletes. Two younger Outrigger members Micah Christenson and Micah Ma’a have fond memories of the Baby Court. Christenson would spend time at the Baby Court when he was not dominating local basketball leagues with Taylor Crabb. Micah Ma’a remembers being dropped off at the Club and playing one on one games to 7 all day on the Baby Court when he was not battling with his sisters at home on his families’ own sand court.

This crop of Outrigger athletes has made an incredible impact on the world stage. The accomplishments described by Merwhirter are astounding and only continue to evolve.

The McKibbin brothers are mainstays on the pro tour and great world ambassadors for beach volleyball and the Club. They have recently parlayed their success into a spot in the “Amazing Race” – the internationally acclaimed reality show viewed by millions.

In the upcoming Tokyo Olympics 2021, four Outrigger members will be representing the United States in volleyball. Taylor Crabb will partner with Jake Gibb in beach doubles. Trevor Crabb and Tri Bourne barely missed qualifying as the second doubles team but already are setting their sights on the 2024 games in Paris. In addition, brothers Kawika Shoji and Erik Shoji along with Micah Christenson will represent the USA in Indoor Volleyball as one-quarter of the team. Although he will not be on the team in Tokyo, Micah Ma’a is a sure bet to represent the USA in 2024 in Paris.

In the just completed NCAA Men’s volleyball season, Division I rosters were dotted with Baby Court alumni including Wil Stanley, Jon Stanley, Kanai Akana, Davis Lau, Jack Deuchar, Ryan Wilcox, Ethan Siegfried, Jameson McKibbin and Josiah Kaaa.


In addition to the Baby Court alumni, the future is bright for current Outrigger Baby Courters. Noa and Riley Haine (grandsons of Daddy Haine) won the 14 and under division at the AVPFirst National Championships in 2017. Will Niethammer and his partner, Kanalu Akana (second cousin of Trevor and Taylor Crabb) won the 12 and under championship at the 2019 AVP National Championships in Hermosa Beach. Each of those players got their start on the Baby Court about the time they could walk.

On the other side of the coin, a group of Baby Court alumni annually gather for the Scott Baby Court Invitational, a four-man adult draw tournament played on the Baby Court where beer is plentiful and surviving without getting injured equates to success. The tournament is a celebration of the place the Baby Court has held in the lives of these long-time members.

There is no coincidence, the Baby Court has had a direct, huge and lasting impact on the volleyball world. The proof is the long list of accomplishments by Outrigger volleyball players. The hours and hours spent on the Baby Court by junior members validate Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule it takes to master one’s craft. In addition to acknowledging the large role that the Baby Court had on their career, Outrigger volleyball players uniformly credit the unparalleled volleyball legacy at the Club and endless number of great players and role models that preceded them. This legacy adds to the special formula resulting in volleyball excellence over and over again. There is clearly no end in sight to the Baby Court’s influence on the volleyball world.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alan Lau has been a member of the Outrigger Canoe Club since 1977. He played on the first Outrigger junior team that competed in a national competition on the mainland. He was the long-time Chairman of the Volleyball Committee, President of the Club in 2005, and was awarded the Winged “O” in 2019 for his contributions in athletics to the Club.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: In piecing together years and years of undocumented history of the Baby Court, I undoubtedly missed some Baby Court legends or stories which deserve mention. My apologies! The Outrigger Historical Committee would love to get recollections of experiences the Baby Court along with any pictures that can be located. Please send stories and pictures to occweb@outriggercanoeclub.com. - Alan Lau