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When Indoor Athletes Are Ready to Play, Massive Gym Is Game

January 10, 2005|Orange Peeled | Times Staff Writer

A year ago, 12 million T-shirts in boxes were stacked to the rafters of a massive warehouse near Disneyland. But somewhere in the middle of all that cotton, Brad Kelly and his two partners envisioned hundreds of youths spiking volleyballs, shooting jump shots and heading soccer balls.

So within weeks, the T-shirts came tumbling down, 110,000 square feet of wood flooring was shipped in from Germany, and Alstyle Apparel became American Sports Centers, which bills itself as the largest indoor sports facility in the United States. On most weekends, the commercial gymnasium is filled with more than 170 girls' volleyball teams.

"It takes you back, to see 22 courts lined up with girls playing volleyball," said Ann Davenport, president of the Southern California Volleyball Assn., the governing body for 10- to 18-year-old club volleyball players. "It's just a wonderful thing. The volleyball community has been waiting for something like this for a long time."

Before the sports center came along, the area's nearly 10,000 club volleyball players were scattered among some 30 sites -- high schools, junior colleges and middle schools. Now most play here, which gives not only their peers, but also college scouts, a chance to see them compete.

"I know I'm asking for a lot," said Davenport, whose offices are in the facility. "But I'd like to see these people expand."

Kelly and his partners, Mike Rangel and Norm Nowell, say they don't see that happening any time soon. Kelly, chief financial officer for Mission Viejo-based Makena Properties, said he had a hard-enough time finding the site, at Anaheim Boulevard and Interstate 5.

"We had the concept for this eight years ago," Kelly said, "but it took some time for everything to come together."

The partners got the idea from a similar venture on the campus of United States International University in San Diego, where there is a commercial sports facility. Nowell had a youth basketball background, Rangel was involved in youth and pro beach volleyball, and Kelly was the real estate expert. They all saw the need for a high-caliber indoor sports facility to serve the club volleyball and basketball communities.

The three have spent nearly $4 million refurbishing the building, which also has office space, a cafeteria, fitness center and educational center for the youth athletes. Kelly said he and his partners had been careful to keep the business plan simple.

"We're not a venue," Kelly said. "Our focus is club tournaments for moms and dads to come out and see their kids play."

And for that, there are bleachers with seating for about 30 people positioned around each of the 22 volleyball courts or, when reconfigured, the 16 basketball courts.

Three of the courts have a Teraflex surface -- a rubberized floor used for volleyball in the last eight Olympics. The Teraflex courts, and the facility itself, have drawn the interest of the U.S. Men's National volleyball team. Rangel and John Nicoletti, Anaheim's public information officer, have met twice with USA Volleyball Chief Executive Doug Beal in hopes of reaching a deal that could bring the men's team to the sports center permanently, beginning in May.

Rangel, the founder of Plyo-City, a national chain of workout facilities, is the personal trainer to top-ranked pro beach volleyball players Karch Kiraly and Mike Lambert and to 2004 Olympic Beach Volleyball Gold medalists Misty May and Kerri Walsh.

"I first drew up my 25 goals for this place on a napkin at Coco's two years ago," Rangel said. "Everything has happened but the national team.... If we get this done, it will make Anaheim and the American Sports Centers the center for volleyball in this country."

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