The granddaddy of beach volleyball tournaments, the Laguna Open, begins its 35th consecutive year of competition today at Main Beach and this year the tournament is about more than just fun, sun and sand. This year's tournament is sporting an anti-drug theme.
The Laguna Beach City Council banned sponsorship of the tournament by beer companies five years ago and this year tournament organizers have received written kudos from President George Bush and former First Lady Nancy Reagan for taking the council's stance one step further.
The tournament is being sponsored by the city and Drug Use Is Life Abuse, a support organization of the Orange County Sheriff's Advisory Council that strives to raise community awareness about drug abuse.
Though the tournament is the oldest and one of the most prestigious volleyball tournaments in America, top-ranking professional men such as Sinjin Smith, Randy Stoklos and defending champions Pat Powers and Jon Stevenson will be noticeably absent at Laguna Beach.
The top 32 professional men are obligated by contract to play this weekend in a Manhattan Beach tournament sponsored by the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals.
Still, the Laguna Beach tournament will feature world-class competitors in the men's invitational division as well as the top players from the Women's Professional Volleyball Assn.
A third division, the Legends, will showcase eight teams of volleyball's great seniors, including Gene Selznick--the winner of the first Laguna Open tournament in 1955 who went on to win the next six two-man titles.
"We are having the legends come but he is actually the \o7 grand \f7 legend of the beach," said tournament official Mary Jo Wheeler. "He has got to be in his 60s but he won't tell his age."
The absence of some of the top male professionals as well an expansion of the $50,000 men's invitational division from 16 to 20 two-man teams has opened the field for more local talent.
Laguna Beach High School graduates Scott Fortune, who played for Stanford and the 1988 Olympic gold medal team and Dusty Dvorak, who played for USC and the 1984 Olympic gold medal-winning team, will lead their two-man teams seeking the $27,500 first-place prize in the men's division.
Fortune will team with John Ribarich and Dvorak with Judd Briechler.
Stuart Jemeson and Rod Kinross, the top team from the Australian professional beach volleyball tour, also will participate.
In the 16-team women's division, defending champion Janice Opalinski, a graduate of Dana Hills and UC Irvine, will team with Linda Chisholm. At stake is $20,000 in prize money, including an $11,000 first prize. Linda Robertson of Laguna Beach and Julie Schaar of San Clemente will be one of the top-seeded teams.
Forty-four teams will compete in three divisions today through Monday for $70,000 in prize money. Championship play in all divisions is Monday afternoon and will be taped for telecast by SportsChannel.
Play starts at 9 a.m. daily at the Main Beach courts. The event is free as is parking in the lot off Laguna Canyon Road just west of El Toro Road. Shuttles to the event site will run every 20 minutes.