For married couples, it’s a form of date night. For singles, it’s a chance to possibly meet someone. For parents, it’s a place to get some physical activity while their kids also enjoy play time. It can even be an opportunity to pay homage to a favorite teacher no longer with us.
But for all involved, it’s an evening of fun, camaraderie, competition and exercise.
It’s the Robbinsville Co-ed Adult Summer Volleyball League for men and women 18-and-over. Sponsored by the Robbinsville Recreation Department, league games are played every Monday-Thursday nights at 6:30, 7:30 and 8:30 at the municipal complex’s sand courts behind the library. The season runs from early June through mid-August, concluding with the playoffs.
What started on Route 130 at Bob’s Woodside Inn moved to just off the Robbinsville bypass when the Inn went out of business around the turn of the century. When the rec department first took over, there were nine teams going out and having fun.
There are now two leagues consisting of over 200 players. The A League is for the more competitive teams, while the B League is more for low-key fun. There is also an open league on Sundays where anyone can show up and play in an unstructured atmosphere. The majority of players are from Robbinsville, although there are some from surrounding towns.
Ron Simpson, Robbinsville Rec’s league and facilities manager, has been running the league for the past two years. He says the township secures the courts and makes the schedule, but the teams police themselves each night and everyone makes sure not to ruin a good thing.
“I think it’s just something people want to come out and do for some recreation, and it’s fun for them,” Simpson said. “It’s not like playing in a basketball league where you’ve got a lot of running to do. It’s a very good recreational sport for everyone. Basketball is not for everyone.
“People can come here, it’s played in sand, they can take their shoes off, it’s a very relaxing atmosphere. Most of the people have been in it for years, they know each other, they just have fun.”
One of those people is Sharon Elementary School teacher Kevin Keener, a lifelong Robbinsville resident who was part of the first Pond Road Middle School graduating class in 1997 before attending high school at Lawrence. Keener brought a team into the league in 2004 under the name Elgrim’s Elite, and it is still going strong this summer.
The squad is named after the late Mary Lou Elgrim, a former Sharon and Pond Road teacher who had a huge impact on Keener and many others.
“She inspired me to become a teacher,” he said. “When I was a freshman in college, math wasn’t my strongest subject. She was on medical leave, she had ovarian cancer, and at the time it wasn’t that bad. By spring semester she ended up tutoring me, but she was dying and she knew it, and I didn’t know that. She ended up passing a few months after I finished my spring semester, and she meant the world to me. She cared for her students like they were her own kids.”
Thus, every game played by the team is in tribute to Mary Lou, but that’s not the only reason Keener continues to play.
“It used to be it was just more getting together with my friends and playing volleyball, and playing in the sand, which is a lot harder but it’s a lot more fun,” he said. “And then we broke it down into leagues. I love playing sports, volleyball is a great sport.”
Elgrim’s Elite is in the A League, which consists of several strong teams and some players who come wearing game faces, Simpson said.
“I don’t get out there much, but from what I’ve heard there are a couple of really good players out there who take it very seriously,” he said.
“There’s some good teams out there,” Keener said. “No one with Division I volleyball skills but it is competitive.”
Keener recalled several years ago when a 6-10 player from Penn State played and dominated, spoiling the fun for everyone. He said the league is not really meant for studs like that, but noted there are some talented players of both genders.
“We have a girl on our team who played volleyball at Rider,” Keener said. “She’s good. She hits the ball hard, and she’s better than a lot of the guys. We have a rule that you have to have two girls (out of six players) on the court at all times, because when it was one girl, teams tried to hide the girl in the corner. But you really can’t do that now anyway because some of the girls are really good.”
And the co-ed mix is what takes the enjoyment beyond just playing.
“A lot of moms and dads bring their kids,” Simpson said. “The kids can come run around the park and things like that, while mom and dad are inside the cage. It’s like a family night.”
It can be that way even if couples don’t have kids.
“We had a husband and wife play on our team,” Keener said. “There’s a lot of that, especially in the B League. You get a lot of Robbinsville parents who do this as a social thing, just getting out there and doing things together, just having fun.”
And for those who don’t want to spike-and-run, there is usually a friendly gathering in the parking lot afterwards, where folks from other teams get to know each other and, every so often, a romantic spark may be lit.
“Yeah, sometimes,” Keener said with a laugh. “It’s nice. We’re out there playing competitive, but afterward you’re just hanging out, shooting the breeze. It’s really just about having fun.”