A "Brief" History of the Dismal Swamp Volleyball Digs

As legend has it, during the fall of 1980, a group of guys that played volleyball together were sitting at one of their houses. That day, the conversation centered on the upcoming winter and what level of volleyball they may want to play. There was also talk as to what the summer season would be like. As the conversation continued, the subject of having and hosting a spring tournament before Memorial Day became the focus of discussion. As a few more ice cold beverages were consumed, this early spring tournament idea seems to have merit amongst the guys.

So many things started to come to mind and the list of required things to do. One of the first things suggested was what to call the tournament. It turns out the house they were at was located near the Great Dismal Swamp in south east Virginia. Someone floated (no pun intended) the idea of calling it the Dismal Swamp Tournament. That was a nice, unique name but who would connect that name to volleyball. Brainstorming of names continued until someone suggested adding the word "digs" to the end. Thus the Dismal Swamp Volleyball Digs was named.

Now that a name was determined, questions still increased. What kind of outdoor tournament would it be, where would it be held, who would participate, etc. Someone was aware of a small campground just outside of Windsor Virginia, a small town off of State Route 460. A campground seemed to be the perfect place as they would have plenty of open land albeit grass. As the guys were playing the winter vball season, this tournament was mentioned and had a few people interested in playing. But in Windsor? That was when the campground concept made most sense. People could stay and camp and not worry about driving back home right after the tournament.

The talk turned into action. On the first weekend in May 1981, a tournament was held. It had and advanced "AA,Open" level and beginner "B" bracket. A total of eight teams signed up to play. the folks playing in the tournament were friends and co-players with the organizers. So when determining what the prize should be for bracket winners, shot glasses were given to the beginner levels and a bushel of cooked Chesapeake crabs and a case or two of beer was awarded which was shared by all around a nice campfire. What a way to celebrate a day of competition and good clean fun. So, would the tournament happen again? A question asked by many of the participants. With that type of encouragement and increasing interest, the guys said they would try and host another tournament.

As the months past, the enjoyable experiences of the participants was shared more and more. Interest swelled. It was obvious that if the number of individuals and teams that might play challenged the original organizers to find a larger campground which could accommodate more nets. To that end, another campground with more space was found in the Williamsburg area. The first weekend in May 1982 arrived and the second Dismal Swamp Digs tournament was played with an increased number of teams. The additional teams and the thoughts of an even larger tournament caused the group to start searching for a larger campground for both campers and grassy area that would support numerous nets and courts. The Dismal Swamp Digs was moved to the Jamestown Beach Campground. Although this facility provided several acres for volleyball play, it was not all needed immediately but certainly provided the ability to expand the number of courts if the tournament continued to grow. And grow it did.

The Dismal Swamp Volleyball Digs was a very active team in the region. These guys would talk up the tournament while traveling throughout the area. This was supplemented by the many traveling volleyball teams, both men's and women's, from the Tidewater area would share their experiences with other teams in the region. Interest continued to swell. It was during the mid- 80's through the early 2000's that the number of teams increased substantially. The tournament reached surprising team participation levels. First plateau was 100 teams, then 150,175, 200, 250 teams. There were now 5 different competitive levels for teams to compete. Teams and participants would represent not only Virginia, but Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and elsewhere. The tournament continued growing with increased participation from these areas but now getting players from Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina. There were even players from Florida, Colorado, Texas and California that would travel in to play and enjoy the socialization of the event. The height of the number of teams reached around 350 teams. Some volleyball publications indicated that the Dismal Swamp Volleyball Digs was the largest grass co-ed tournament on the east coast if not the nation.

Remember the first tournament winners received a bushel of crabs and cases of beer. Now the tournament ended with a Saturday night event that all wanted to partake. At first the Saturday night gathering was just a DJ playing and the folks just enjoying the evening while singing along and dancing with some food provided. This blossomed into one heck of a "pig pickin" and party over the years. Another tradition for the Saturday night experience was marshmallows being thrown amongst the crowds. This activity was supplemented with water balloons in subsequent years. This story would be remiss if the mention of the foil heads did not occur or the traditional midnight nude volleyball play which numerous person participated. The tournament prospered over the years, however, in 2004, the Jamestown Settlement Park was beginning to plan for the quadricentennial. The 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown was going to be celebrated. Taking part in those ceremonies would include the President of the United States and Queen Elizabeth II of England. The founders of the Dismal Swamp Volleyball Digs were notified that the campground would not be available for the next few years as preparations were to begin for the Jamestown celebration and the campground and fields would be needed to support that event.

As word of this impending obstacle at the Jamestown Beach campground, the tourney organizers wanted to continue the tournament. A search for a campground and open space needed for a volleyball tournament took place. The KOA in Virginia Beach offered the opportunity for a limited number of camp sites along with a much smaller areas for courts. However, this option somewhat was welcomed by the "Digs guys" who run the tournament. The number of courts limited the tournament to approximately 100 teams. A decision was made to relocate the tournament to this site and notifications were sent to team contacts and representatives advising them of the continuation of the tournament and new location. Not real sure of the interest of players and teams to this new location, plans began being made. A new place with different camping rules, created an all new learning experience for both the players and campground. The first year at the Virginia Beach KOA came with some challenges but soon were addressed as the comfort level with everyone involved became better. The first year was successful at the KOA with approximately 125 teams participating. That number of teams and associated participants seems to fit well with the amenities available from the campground as well as tournament directors. Consiquently the "Digs" has continued to be held each spring at the KOA Campground in Virginia Beach, Virgina.

Hope to see you there!