Longtime Y Men's Club member Ron Mack marvels at how much of a success the Mississippi Mud Volleyball Tournament has become.

Ron Mack peers out at three courts that were the center of attention this weekend during the 38th Annual Mississippi Mud Volleyball Tournament at Y Men's Club.

The longtime organizer was one of the handful of men who spearheaded the launch of the event in 1979 as a fundraiser for the Hannibal YMCA.

This year, teams from near and far competed in the competition, creating a buzz downtown that included thousands of spectators over the three-day, 56-squad bracket.

“This is probably the best mud volleyball tournament around in the country,” Mack said.

After 35 years as a member of the club, including one as the president and 15 as treasurer, Mack now takes a back seat and marvels at how much of a success the event has become.

Mack, a retired A.D. Stowell Elementary School administrator, remembers the humble beginnings of the tournament.

“Bobby Heiser thought it up, and then there were four or five of us that started the Y Men's Club,” he said. “We originally had 12, 16, 20 members, and we said, let's do a booster club for the YMCA. We started down here 38 years ago, and we had one pit and we used sandbags. We built it by hand. We didn't have the pavilion. We didn't have any of this.

“We'd get all the officials together. I'd do that and make up the rules, and then we had an attorney who made up the bylaws. Then we just kept going.” 

Mack credited longtime club member Terry Lehenbauer for organizing the construction of the mud pits. 

Even with the strong core that got the event started, however, Mack admits he was surprised with how much the event has soared in popularity.

“Some of us thought after five, six, seven years, it would wear off,” he said. “It's gotten so much bigger now, it's amazing. There are 1,500 to 2,000 people down here watching.”

Look no further than Thursday night's 16-team junior tournament to find the next generation of mud volleyball talent.

“Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, everybody comes down, and the younger kids are playing volleyball now,” Mack said. “They keep moving up and it keeps going.”

The tournament is a family affair for Mack perhaps as much as for anyone else. His children were on past teams that won the title, and several of his grandchildren played this year.

The event also serves as a reunion for friends, he said.

“If you want to meet somebody over Fourth of July, if they're in town, Friday or Saturday, they'll be here,” he said. “They'll come through. Really, it's kind of like a reunion. You'll see people you haven't seen for awhile.”

The main reason Mack says he devoted so many years to the tournament is because it's for a good cause.

To call it an effective fundraiser is an understatement. 

“Over 38 years, we probably raised half a million dollars for the Y,” Mack said. “It's good family fun, and that's basically what's it's about. That's what we do.”

In many ways, the mud volleyball tournament is the intersection of past and present, stopping time in America's Hometown for three days each July for fun in the mud.

Mack trusts the next generation of Y Men's Club will continue to grow the tournament in the coming years as the original founders move into the background. 

“We've all kind of retired,” Mack said of the original leaders. “We've been 30, 35 years with 'em, and we said it's time for these younger guys. It's time for them to take over.”