The original members of the Alton Sports Tap team are such regular sights at the Mississippi Mud Volleyball Tournament they could be confused for Hannibal natives.

The original members of the Alton Sports Tap team are such regular sights at the Mississippi Mud Volleyball Tournament they could be confused for Hannibal natives. 

At least over Fourth of July weekend.

For the past 30 summers, a group from Alton, Illinois, has made the trip to America's Hometown for the popular annual tournament, which the Y Men's Club is hosting this weekend for the 38th year.

The squad has made it their tradition to spend three days each year getting down and dirty while playing the game they love.

Their reason for coming back is simple.

“This is the best mud tournament I've ever played in,” said team member Michael Haar. “We've played in a lot of tournaments, but they do it right up here. The Y Club, the guys up there are just classy guys, and we love 'em. They do a great job and put on a great show.”

Greg Pope and Joe Schmidt have joined Haar as the team's core since it originated. Each of the three has played in the Hannibal tournament upwards of 25 times. The group became friends playing indoor volleyball three decades ago, and eventually they discovered their passion for the muddier version of the sport.

“There was a mud tournament in Godfrey, and we played on different teams, but at that time we had just heard about this tournament and we decided to have three guys and three wives,” Pope said. “That was the first time we came up, and we fell in love with it right after that.”

Alton Sports Tap's best finishes at the tournament came in the 1990s, when the team finished in third place on several occasions. Looking back, they aren't too bummed about never playing in the championship match.

“The first year, we just got lucky we got third,” Pope explained. “But they give you a glass mug after you finish as the third place team and you get to drink free beer. So we get the free mug and watch the first and second place teams play for the next hour and a half. It was the plan.”

The team name of Alton Sports Tap comes from a popular bar in their hometown they used to frequent. Several years after the group chose to be named after the establishment, the bar owner agreed to sponsor the team and cover half its expenses for tournaments. Even after the sponsorship ended, the name stuck. 

“They haven't sponsored us in probably 20 years, but we just kept the name because everybody knew us by that,” Haar said.

Like the tournament itself, the team has undergone changes over the years. Some of the original team members no longer play, and a new generation of women has joined in on the fun. Additionally, Haar, a cornerstone of the squad, now resides in the state of Florida but makes a point to circle this weekend on his calendar. 

“Still come up here every year to play,” he said. “This is it. Fourth of July weekend, and usually maybe one other trip to see family. This is an extended family, if you will.” 

It's loyal teams such as Alton Sports Tap that have helped make the Mississippi Mud Volleyball Tournament a consistent success.

“I think it's gotten bigger and better,” Schmidt said of the tournament. “The courts have definitely gotten bigger and better. But (overall), it's stayed pretty much the same. It's been a fun, family thing like this.” 

The weekend has turned into a family affair for the three original team members who are here for the 2017 edition. And the same goes for a fourth longtime teammate, Joe Herndon, who was unable to attend this year due to a family illness. Hannibal native Jeff Locke played in Herndon's place.

“We've got a lot of family that we bring, and some of our friends have teams that are playing now,” Pope said. “We love it. Just the way they run it up here is so nice. It's so much fun to come listen to the music, watch the other people play, drink a beer, go swimming and whatnot. Best thing we look forward to every year.” 

Pope said the team plans to return next year. 

“We'll be back,” he said. “If I can get in shape, I'll come back. I didn't do that this year, but I'm playing anyways. It's always my goal to get in shape for Hannibal. If I don't do it for Hannibal, I don't do it.”