Hermosa’s Seawright Volleyball Tournament turns 50

A tradition built on sand.

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  • Written & Photographed by
    Kat Monk

It was the middle of the summer—at twilight—and the air was crisp. The beach had long been vacated by sunbathers and swimmers, all with the exception of one volleyball court lined with umbrellas, beach chairs and a sea of people wrapped in towels and blankets. The sandy court was glowing as the crowd held up their mobile phones to illuminate the lines during the finals of the famous Seawright Volleyball Tournament.

Hermosa Beach natives Nick Schneider and Timmy Schneider were playing against 6’7” NBA player Chase Budinger’s team. Tournaments are typically over by dusk, but not this night. Usually finals are to 15, but since the sun had already set finals were going to be to 11 (similar to pool play).

The suspense was palpable, with each team having multiple match points and a crowd now on their feet cheering and jeering. Ultimately the scrappiness of the Schneider brothers was too much for Chase and his team, and for the first time Nick and Timmy held the highly coveted Seawright Tournament championship trophy with a 15 to 13 victory in a game to 11.

The Seawright has become one of Hermosa Beach’s most treasured traditions, rich with families that have grown up in the community. Hermosa Beach native Chris Brown reminisces, “I remember as a kid what a big deal it was to score an invite to the Seawright. You had to be at least 18 to play, but even when I was 19, 20, I didn’t make the cut. Finally when I was 21 my friend Pink went to bat for me, and I got in. I was so stoked. Twenty-seven years later, and they can’t get rid of me.”

Back in the mid-1960s buddies Jon Seawright and Brad Stevenson started the tourney at 18th Street in Manhattan Beach as a local summer reunion for some Mira Costa alumni who were home from college. “We know that the Seawright family created the tournament for everyone to enjoy,” shares Nick.

Jon’s brother, Roy Seawright, and his wife, Bunny, purchased a Strand home and took over the tourney in 1968, bringing it to Hermosa Beach after the Stevensons decided to no longer host it. Roy’s best friend, Bill Schneider Sr. (Nick and Timmy’s grandpa), was instrumental in helping run the tourney in the early days. At this time the tourney only took up two full courts.

The tourney matches four players ranked A, B, C and D. The A player is the hitter, the B player is the setter, and the C and D players are back row passers. Every team has A through D players, and it is quite a challenge to appropriately make the teams balanced.

In the 1980s Bunny’s granddaughter Annie Seawright-Newton started to help her grandmother with the tourney while at Costa and then UCLA, doing the mailers and picking up the entries and eventually going to the directors’ meetings. Annie, by 1995, was faced with the next generation of players who wanted to play, as well as her and her husband’s friends at Marine Street in Manhattan Beach.

Doug Schneider (another of Bill Schneider Sr.’s grandsons), who grew up going to the tourney, had a list of 16th Street players who also wanted to play. But the directors would not budge, stating that new players weren’t needed.

Annie was forced to start the Alternative Seawright, held in 1995 and 1996. It ran next to the Seawright and had all the players in it that couldn’t get into the original. By 1996 many players in the original Seawright wanted to be in the Alternative, and eventually the two tourneys merged.

“It’s the one tournament I plan my summer around, as it’s a critical part of our South Bay family roots and tradition. I get the chance to now have my daughters enjoy this storied tournament and grow up the way their dad and grandpa did playing in this local staple of a tournament.”

Popular among the locals, the Seawright tournament had grown too large and soon became too much for Bunny. Annie, who had recently graduated from UCLA, took over the tournament. The tournament took a few more twists and turns, but even with the expansion of more teams, Annie—with the help of her husband, Cory Newton—kept her grandma’s traditions alive and still handwrites the invitations and hand-delivers them to each and every player.

By 1999 Annie, who was working as a flight attendant and pregnant with her first child, struggled to keep the tourney going. Luckily Chris Brown and the 21st Street guys chipped in and helped where they could so the tournament didn’t slowly slip away.

This year, on its 50th anniversary, the Seawright will be at full capacity with 11 courts—eight for adults and three for kids. Many players who were originally A players are now C and D players, and there is a massive surplus of back row players. There is a waitlist of 40 to 50 players for passing positions.

“It is almost impossible for a new player to break in unless they are a pro player,” states Annie. Entry is by invite only, and new entry is on a lottery basis just to get on the waitlist.

“Annie has done a great job keeping her grandparents’ spirit alive,” says Chris. “Roy and Bunny Seawright were Hermosa Beach royalty. It’s a great tribute to them that the tournament they started in their front yard 50 years ago is still going strong.”

“It’s the one tournament I plan my summer around, as it’s a critical part of our South Bay family roots and tradition,” says 2016 champion Nick Schneider. “I get the chance to now have my daughters enjoy this storied tournament and grow up the way their dad and grandpa did playing in this local staple of a tournament.”