Post-Katrina Wellness center

Published in Volleyball Magazine
August 2006

Bruce White, one of the owners of the Coconut Beach Volleyball Center in New Orleans, describes the new normal out at his partially recovered courts eleven months after Hurricane Katrina came ashore, “This isn’t a volleyball complex anymore – it’s a wellness center. These people come out here to play, but what they’re really doing is taking their minds off of rebuilding their homes and their fragile job situations.”

Coconut Beach, which was home to 17 courts that fielded an astonishing 462 coed 6 man teams, was completely inundated by several feet of water after the storm and was located only two blocks from the 17th Street Canal breach in Lakeview. In order to reopen, White has had to go through several layers of Herculean tasks. With three lakeside restaurants lying crumbled on his courts, it took him months to remove all of the debris only to then have the Army Corps of Engineers seize the property as a staging ground for rebuilding the faulty levee.

“I understand that they are doing the most important job for the city of New Orleans.” White explains, “But all I kept asking them was to give us back what they weren’t using. We were determined. My business partner and I constantly debated on how to get this back up and running without going to jail.”

By late June, they had succeeded. White was able to secure a sliver of his original land from the Corps and with the addition of a neighboring parking lot they have rebuilt seven courts and a bar from the ground up. The old adage of if you build it they will come has also come true with over 200 teams registering for the summer league. White adds, “It’s been amazing. The Thursday and Friday leagues are completely full. I can’t believe how many people we’ve had to turn down for those nights.”

This success hasn’t come cheaply. Already way over their insurance returns, White quickly talks about the support they have realized from around the country, “Tom Davenport over at The Island in Denver has been raising money for the complex as well as a group out in California. Karch Karai donated 60 volleyballs. All of our national sponsors are back and have been great.”

White details further, “Coconut Beach was the most successful outdoor venue in the United States and it was completely destroyed. In those first days after the storm I saw some satellite imagery of the complex and of course it was full of debris. The nearby buildings looked good, but what you couldn’t see is that they were gutted from 15 feet on down.”

“Twelve days before the storm, we had the National AAU Championships here at Coconut Beach, we had kids from as far away as Canada and Puerto Rico playing on these courts.” White continues, “Since 1988, we’ve had over 16,000 leagues play out here. There were some years where this site alone had more members of the Amateur Volleyball Association than the entire state of California.”

Understanding what Coconut Beach has gone through to get back on its feet, it shouldn’t be long before it reclaims its spot as one of the premier outdoor venues in the country.