Baltimore Beach Celebrates Eleven Years and Hopes for Many More at Rash Field
“I’m tired of turning people away who want to play beach volleyball,” said Baltimore Beach Volleyball Founder Todd Webster. What started as a group of people playing pickup beach volleyball in the Harborview neighborhood has blossomed into a league that has outgrown a seven court setup at Rash Field. Baltimore Beach Volleyball produces approximately 1,500 visits a week to the Inner Harbor, with many more people seeking entrance.
Chances are if you’ve spent any time in Federal Hill or the Inner Harbor you’ve probably stopped and watched a few minutes of beach volleyball, if not tossed off your shoes and played. If you’ve ever watched a home Ravens game on TV you’ve probably seen cutaways of people playing volleyball at Rash Field. If you applied for admission to Johns Hopkins University you may have seen a picture of Baltimore Beach on their website. Rash Field has developed into one of the best beach volleyball scenes in America, but unfortunately it’s not good enough for many of Baltimore’s agency leaders.
On May 25th the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC) released three new designs for a Rash Field renovation. Two of the designs featured beach volleyball. The only one that didn’t featured a walking bridge from Rash Field to Harbor East. Naturally people were drawn to the walking bridge, even though it could have been featured on any of the designs. Seven days later the GBC rushed out a press release with survey results of the different designs – “Harbor Loop,” the design with a walking bridge, led with 60.2% of the vote.
This was before Baltimore Beach Volleyball had endorsed their favorite design. After they did announce their favorite – the Federal Hill Connector – the results, to our knowledge, were never again released. Rushing to release the poll results after just one week, one has to assume that Baltimore Beach’s many fans had a strong influence on the final results.
In a city that is looking for a new arena, an expanded convention center, a new horse track, a soccer stadium, a casino and roads that look like they haven’t been repaved since The Great Baltimore Fire, I do find it interesting that we are planning to spend millions of dollars changing something that many would consider a strong asset to the city.
“We are a proven asset that puts conservatively half a million dollars into the Baltimore economy. Is it worth getting rid of us for something unknown? We’ve been around for 11 years and keep growing,” Webster said. Webster calculated the economic impact based on the fact that, according to a survey, 56% of the players go out to bars and restaurants after playing. Webster also conservatively estimated that 30% of the players pay to park while playing. All of this is not counting the yearly fees paid to Recreation and Parks and the taxes on his for-profit business.
“When you get to the edge of Federal Hill and look down at Baltimore Beach, you see a city that is healthy, vibrant and active,” Federal Hill neighbors have told Webster. Throughout the country Baltimore is trying to shake to image of having a high murder rate and the stigma of the television series The Wire. One would think the site of hundreds of young, active, healthy and good looking people playing beach volleyball in a public park at the area’s number one tourist attraction would be something the city would want to embrace and help grow.
Webster has been given 11 one-year leases in his 11 seasons at Rash Field. “I’d be willing to make major improvements to the park if I could get a three- to five-year commitment from the city, but I can’t make the investment with a one-year lease.” Point in case, a large portion of grass remains unused at the park, previously occupied by a trapeze school. “We offered to take over the unused portion of the park, but we were turned down.” Chances are that portion of the park will remain mostly unused this spring and summer.
Baltimore Beach has outgrown the current Rash Field and is looking for more courts for expansion. “There is a need for more volleyball courts in this city. We’d like to remain at Rash Field as long as possible. We feel we are an asset to the Inner Harbor.” If Webster isn’t able to build more courts at Rash Field he will look for a second location in Baltimore City. “Right now that is in the exploratory phases, but in order for me to grow my business I need to expand.”
SouthBMore.com also spoke to Councilman William Cole about the Rash Field issue. ”We don’t have the money to rebuild Rash Field right now. If Rash Field ultimately isn’t Baltimore Beach’s home, they will have a home somewhere. I’ve been working hard with the Department of Recreation and Parks and Baltimore Development Corporation to ensure that if and when Baltimore Beach has to relocate they are given more than enough time to have a relocation plan and a place to go.”
Baltimore Beach runs leagues every night of the week, with the exception of Saturdays, for more than seven months of the year. Saturday and Sunday mornings and afternoons are open play (I can vouch for how hard it is to get on a court during open play.) “We take pride that we are the only league in Baltimore that offers free play to its members,” Webster said.
Looking ahead, this year Baltimore Beach will be launching a youth program. “I have appointed a chair in charge of our Junior Program. We have created a great relationship with Chesapeake Regional Volleyball Association, a division of USA Volleyball, to assist us in the effort,” said Webster. Baltimore Beach is looking to host camps, have development clinics and run junior leagues during the day and on Friday nights. “Once again it will bring more people – kids and parents – to the harbor and city. We want kids to be more active and we can play a big role in that!”
This year will also feature the return of the National Volleyball League (NVL) pro tour. The NVL is the best professional beach volleyball league in the country and will play their professional tournament at Rash Field on May 17th and 18th. The semifinals and championships will be held at the Preakness infield on May 19th. Baltimore joins Oshkosh (WI), Long Beach (CA), Aspen, Miami and Las Vegas as the only other NVL tour stops. ”We have a great relationship with the NVL. We are hoping to get them involved in our youth program, as well as offering more clinics for adults.”
Wherever the future lies for Baltimore Beach, there is no denying it has made a big impact on Baltimore and the SoBo communities. Since the money for a Rash Field development is not in the near future, how about we make a commitment to Todd Webster and Baltimore Beach? Focus on the arena, soccer stadium, casino, Harbor Point Park, Hopkins Plaza, road redevelopment and tons of other projects the city is searching for money and resources for. Who knows, after Baltimore Beach makes improvements to the park and implements their youth program, these conversations may be just a memory.
Councilman William Cole on the future of Rash Field and Baltimore Beach