Six Man, Team Fletch prosper once more
by Mark McDermott
Late Saturday afternoon, not long after Team Fletch had won the 56th Annual Charlie Saikley Six Man Volleyball Tournament in epic fashion, the only game still being played featured a team of over-40 men dressed as World Wrestling Federation stars. A few courts away a man was rolling down nets by himself, almost meditatively.
Jay Saikley has been rolling down nets since he was eight years old. He started helping his father with the Six Man in the late 1970s when he realized it would be more fun than staying home with his mother, who liked to utilize her small fleet of sons to clean walls and floors and do any other chores she could think of rather than allow idle boys.
“After a while, I was like, ‘Where do you want to be?’” Saikley recalled. “I want to be down on the beach with Dad.”
Saikley unofficially took the helm of the Six Man tournament in 2004, when his father was dying of cancer. Few men in the history of Manhattan Beach had engendered more goodwill than Charlie Saikley, the soft-spoken, generous, and enormously effective organizer who worked for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department for 42 years. He was known as “the godfather of Beach Volleyball.” He founded not only the Six Man — known since its inception as a mix of elite-level volleyball and pure community fun — but also the original professional league, the California Beach Volleyball Association, as well as the “Wimbledon of Beach Volleyball,” the venerable Manhattan Beach Open.
When he died in June, 2005, his son officially took over the Six Man. It was an unwieldy task.
“He dropped a grandfather tournament in my lap,” Saikley said. “The tournament was already at over 40,000 people when I took over in 2005, and from 2005 to 2011 — you saw what happened. It just got too big…It really blew up and caused the biggest problems. It started doing damage to the downtown area.”
The Six Man had become nationally known, but with a reputation far from what anyone in the city intended. Playboy magazine, among other publications, listed it annually as one of the top 10 parties in America. What had begun as a simple community event had become a wild, drunken free-for-all, peaking when an estimated 70,000 people descended on the beach in 2011.
“We simply don’t have the manpower to respond if people riot,” then-MBPD Chief Rod Uyeda told the City Council. “And that’s my biggest fear since I’ve been in the city. My only fear has been the Six-Man.”
“What would Charlie think?” wondered Olympic volleyball gold medalist Eric Fonoimoana, who had played in the tournament for two decades. “I don’t think Charlie envisioned this.”
In 2012, the City Council decided to dial it way back. They did so by moving the tournament to Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
It worked almost too well. Few people could get away from work midweek for a volleyball tournament. The number of spectators dwindled, but so did the number of teams and the level of play. With fewer than 2,000 people attending annually, team sponsors fled; 198 teams entered in 2009, and only 47 last year.
The city gradually started dialing it back up, moving the tournament first to Wednesday-Thursday and last year Thursday-Friday.
But it still didn’t feel quite like the Six Man as Charlie Saikley, or anyone who cherished the tradition, had envisioned it. So earlier this year, the City Council moved it partially back to the weekend, starting match play on Friday and ending it on Saturday.
This time, the move worked exactly as was hoped. Moments after Team Fletch completed its stunning come-from-behind victory, its spokesperson (meaning the man with the megaphone and biggest wig), known as Presh (“I used to be Mark Presha,” he said.) declared the Six Man officially back.
“It’s absolutely back,” Presh said. “Now, [Team Fletch] came back two years ago. But now we are really back, because it’s more of a real tournament again, like it used to be. Because it’s a pseudo weekend, let’s call it — Friday and Saturday is a weekend, for the most part.”
“More teams, and the amount of competition — I mean, there are some unbelievable players here,” Presh added. “All the best indoor and beach players in the world, for the most part, are here.”
With that, Presh lead the team’s charge to the water. “We are going to frolic like fruits in the ocean,” he said.
According to Manhattan Beach Councilmember Richard Montgomery, few calls for police were required at the tournament or because of its attendant festivities (the Shellback Tavern appeared to be command headquarters for many teams and their entourages). According to estimates compiled by both MBPD and the city’s Parks and Rec Department, on Friday, 3,000 people attended the Six Man itself, on the beach, while between 7,000 and 8,000 people visited the surrounding downtown area; the same number of spectators attended Saturday’s matches and between 14,000 and 15,000 people were downtown. Police arrested two people downtown for alchohol-related offenses; on the beach, the only significant police activity were 15 citiations given out for riding a bicycle in the area near the pier were riders were asked to walk thier bikes.
Montgomery, just reelected to council this year, was on the council which originally dialed it back.
“It just wasn’t sustainable,” he said. “Now it’s the perfect mix, where it makes perfect sense — it’s safe, it’s caused no problems, we have more teams, and everyone is having a great time. It’s the perfect blend, common sense and tradition. The Six Man continues.”
“It says a lot that the biggest police event was citations for people not walking their bikes,” Montgomery said. “This is a good success story. A lot of credit goes to [Parks and Rec director] Mark Leymen, who helped bring the tournament back to Friday and Saturday, and Jay Saikley. It was a team effort.”
Though Team Fletch steamrolled most of its competition — including a 15-3 quarterfinals trouncing of Team SoHo, led by Laker coach Luke Walton and Cleveland Cavalier Richard Jefferson — the finals with defending champions Spyder Res Ipsa was one for the ages.
Down 6-0, Fletch charged back, then once again fell behind, only to be saved by the stellar play and fierce serves of Six Man rookie Brian Cook. Team Fletch prevailed, 16-14.
“This is my first year. Epic,” said Cook, 25, an outsider hitter who is a Stanford alum and member of Team USA and now lives in El Porto. “I came down when I was 16 years old and I watched it, people everywhere, you could just feel the tradition. Ever since then I wanted to win the Six Man. So I’m just stoked.”
Cook was astounded at the level of play.
“In that last game alone, we had All-Americans, Olympians, national team players,” he said. “That was a lot of talent on that court.”
Cook said he’d been recruited to Team Fletch after almost joining another team.
“Hold on a second,” said Valley Jerry, a Team Fletch organizer who called this year’s squad the best in his 23 years as a part of the team. “There wasn’t much of a recruitment. He knew. He’s like, I’m Fletch, I’m going to hold out.”
Cook was sold on Fletch’s youth movement and storied tradition.
“I can tell you right now my guy here is rookie MVP,” Valley Jerry said of Cook. “He might be the best player on the beach. I’m not f’ing around. I’ll tell you this, every kid I’ve ever met from Stanford, I love them. I’ve never met a guy, or girl, who went to Stanford that wasn’t f’ing awesome. It’s true, honest to god.”
He turned to Cook. “A long line of Stanford freaks,” Valley Jerry said. “The guy is a god. I’m going to give him a hug.”
“He killed it. And we got younger and better,” Presh said.
But there was still plenty of the old guard, including Olympians Sean Rosenthal, Mike Lambert and Eric Sullivan and legendary pros Tim May and Matt Fuerbringer (Lambert and Fuerbringer are also Stanford alums).
As much of a veteran and a beach volleyball legend as Rosenthal is, he took special satisfaction in winning the Six Man.
“This is just as good as any AVP victory,” said Rosenthal, who has won 11 tour victories. “My first win of the year. Stuck in a lot of seconds, so it feels good to get this one just in time to back it up with the Manhattan Open in two weeks.”
Rosenthal first played in the Six Man as a 19-year-old in 1999, but has rarely been able to play since, due to tour conflicts. May has won five Six Man titles.
“He’s a six man legend and he played every point,” Rosenthal said. “Five rings — that’s more wins in Manhattan than I’ve got.”
Saikley noted that the entire field was star-studded, including Taylor Crabbe and AVP’s star brother duo Riley and Madison McKibben.
On the women’s side, the Horny Unicorny emerged from losers bracket and defeated Rock & Brews, 15-7 and 11-7, to claim the Open Division championship.
“I’ve been coming here to play for 16 years and had never won it before, so I’m pretty excited,” team captain and Mira Costa alum Rachel Morris told the Daily Breeze. “It means a lot to me to win this tournament. It’s big bragging rights and this tournament is a piece of my heart. It’s a very special day.”
Fonz’s beat Wrestlers to win the Men’s 40 and over Masters Division while Raymond Construction prevailed over Good Stuff to win the Men’s 50 and over Golden Masters Division. Lady Lole beat Hottie’s Heroes to claim the Women’s 35 and over Master’s Division.
In the end, Saikley was left marvelling at just how well everything had gone. His own team, Bad News Bears, didn’t win anything, but they said their Little League Pledge before every match. Everybody he talked to at the tournament seemed happy.
“All I’ve heard is positive things from all the players, from all the spectators, from the chief of police, from city council members…and that’s what it should be,” Saikley said. “We should leave here feeling good, not worried about what we are going to hear about.”
He said he’d have to go home and think about it, but he was pretty sure this was the most satisfying Six Man he’d experienced since his father’s passing.
“He’d be proud, that’s for sure,” Saikley said.
He pointed to his shorts, which had “Make the Six Man Great Again” stitched in. Next year, he said, the stitching would be changed to, “The Six Man is Great Again.” But he said it was a mistake to say, “The Six Man is back.”
“No,” Saikley said. “It never left.”