Ever wonder why Gulfport seems to have become a Mecca for volleyball players? The answer is simple: It’s got nice courts, beautiful views, free parking and residents with a welcoming attitude.
That’s according to Prem Persaud of St. Petersburg, co-founder of a group called the Tampa Bay Beach Bums, whose players use the Gulfport courts two or three times a week to practice and hold tournaments once a month that draw 200 to 300 people.
Persaud, 31, said he and three friends formed the group in November 2013 to give volleyball players of all levels of expertise a chance to play and socialize with folks with similar interests. The Beach Bums also raise money for good causes and encourage their players to patronize local businesses.
“It brings a lot of really good people together,” Persaud said.
In the year and a half since the group was formed, it has grown from about eight teams to 60 and about 500 members. There are three divisions – recreational, intermediate and competitive – with players ranging in age from 16 to 70. The Beach Bums’ tournaments have become so large that they use all four of Gulfport’s courts plus a fifth one they set up themselves. They’re hoping the city will install two more.
According to City Manager Jim O’Reilly, the Beach Bums bring a lot of people into the community who visit local restaurants and businesses. The city has not received any major complaints about them, he said. The few issues that have been reported generally involved noise if the tournaments continue late into the evening.
“I don’t have any downside with it,” he said of the group. With respect to new courts, however, O’Reilly said the city has not made any definite plans to add any.
Alice Nordwall, bar manager at the Beach Haus on Beach Boulevard, had only good things to say about the Beach Bums. She noted how they raise money for local charities and bring young professionals into Gulfport, increasing its diversity. Some of these visitors have never been to Gulfport before but later return on their own, she said.
“And I love them because they always come after the tournaments and have their rap party with us,” she said, adding that they’re good customers and tip well.
Among the community projects the Beach Bums have taken part in is the Gulfport Neighbors beach cleanup, Persaud said, while money raised at recent tournaments has gone to the family of Beach Bum member who died and to the Alpha House of Tampa, which provides safe housing for pregnant women and their children.
“We’re not making any money on this,” he said, adding that in addition to charity, the money raised goes for cash prizes for the players, insurance, court rental and other operating expenses.
On Saturday, July 11, more than 200 people gathered in Gulfport for the club’s monthly tournament under skies that were alternative sunny, cloudy and rainy. All five courts were in constant use, music played, and members milled around and socialized while awaiting their turn on the sand.
Joe Anderson of St. Petersburg said he had been playing with the Beach Bums ever since they got started. He said it provided good exercise, opportunities to meet new people and to “hang out with all your friends.”
“Gulfport is an awesome community,” said Beach Bum member Kevin Everson, also of St. Petersburg. “It’s very welcoming.”
Persaud said the Beach Bums want to keep working with Gulfport to develop new partnerships.
“We love Gulfport,” he said. “We want to see it flourish and continue to be good.”