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Light shines on a dream

Alan Hafez's beach volleyball facility was built with enthusiasm, soft sand, night lights, and no beach traffic.
By DEMORRIS A. LEE - Published April 9, 2006

Smack-dab in the middle of several warehouse businesses, near one of the county's busiest thoroughfares, sits Alan Hafez's dream.

It's complete with soft sand that shifts with the slightest movement of the wind. It has some of the sturdiest nets around the Tampa Bay area, players say, and it's dedicated to one thing and one thing only: volleyball.

"This has been my dream since I was 10 years old," said Hafez, 47, looking around at the self-made beach volleyball facility. "I'm living a childhood dream. This country has been good to me. Volleyball has been good to me, and I want to give back."

Last month, Hafez, who has run volleyball leagues in the area for nearly 30 years, opened Club V Beach, a beach volleyball facility on 2.3 acres south of Ulmerton Road. The sand and palm trees are sandwiched between companies, such as an air conditioning and heating business and a roofing supply business.

The 20-court facility is here for a reason, Hafez said.

"If I was in a residential area, I wouldn't be able to have lights," he said. "This is probably one of the only beach volleyball facilities in the country, that I know of, that has lights."

Unlike Clearwater Beach, which also offers volleyball, the game doesn't stop when the sun goes down. At Club V Beach, the lights come on.

"It's lit, it's very well lit," said Troy Whigham, 41, of Tampa, who plays frequently at Club V Beach. "Now I can go out and play at night and my weekends are free. This time of year, you don't have to deal with the beach traffic."

Usually, inland beach volleyball facilities are found at bars that use them to attract customers. But volleyball players said those courts typically have hard sand and substandard nets.

"They have a bar in front and a couple of nets in the back," said Whigham, who has been playing volleyball since 1987. "They set up a couple of nets to give that beach atmosphere but they are never dedicated to volleyball. Everybody goes for drinks and then plays volleyball. At Alan's, it's different. It's the first time a facility is strictly for volleyball."

Hafez said he had 4,000 pounds of the finest sand trucked to the location, which cost nearly $3-million to complete. He used nets with steel cables at the top and bottom and thick aluminum poles. The city of Clearwater has approved a fence that would enclose the entire area, he said.

Born in Cairo, Hafez played volleyball in two Olympics - 1972 and 1976 - for his native country. He has been in Florida since 1979. Hafez said he wanted a spot where beach volleyball lovers can play. In addition, he wanted a facility that could host tournaments.

For some, the eight light poles with 1,500 watt lights give Club V Beach an edge over the courts at Clearwater Beach.

Richard Heiles of New York is tournament director of East End Volleyball, a professional tour. He has held tournaments at Clearwater Beach, but will hold a tournament a Club V Beach this year . The Corona Light Beach Volleyball Tournament begins Frida y and ends Sunda y.

"Clearwater Beach is a nice facility and one of the best in the country," Heiles said. "We are doing this one because of a change of pace. He has lights and in the long run, we will be able to do something at night."

Clearwater Beach is considered one of the best beach volleyball facilities in the country, but some players say it has its limitations. One, there can be no lights on the beach. Also, May 1 to Oct. 31 is marine turtle nesting season, and nothing can be done that impedes a turtle from going back to the water.

Bob Barry, a recreation coordinator for the Clearwater's parks and recreation department, said it's not a "major deal" that Clearwater Beach doesn't have lights and has to observe turtle nesting season. "It's been awarded one of the Top 10 beaches in the country," Barry said.

One day last week, players enjoyed volleyball at Club V Beach.

For the last eight years, Justin Phipps, 27, has played beach volleyball about four days a week. In a few days, he's heading to California for a professional tour. The Clearwater native said Club V Beach has everything.

"It has great equipment, the sand and the lights," Phipps said, taking a break from a game. "You can play 24 hours a day. You couldn't ask for more."

Chuck Moore, 32, has played on a professional tour and says he has played on many beaches. Now the city of St. Petersburg firefighter and new father plays pickup here.

"To me, volleyball is mostly about who you are playing with," Moore said. "Some places might have good sand. Some might have good nets. Here, you have everything."

Brenda Veldman of Largo just wanted a place to take her sister, who was in town from Grand Rapids, Mich., for a quick game after work.

"My sister's on spring break and I can't play during the day," Veldman said. "The sand is great. And you can't beat the lights."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 dalee@sptimes.com

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