In the summer of 1990 my friend Mike Cleverdon and myself would drive down from the cottage early to go to Ashbridges beach on Sunday afternoons to play Beach Volleyball. At that time there were only four nets on the beach! The sand actually only stretched out from the boardwalk about four nets deep the sand wasn’t there as it is now, it was on the other side in the horseshoe on the south side. There were only approximately 7 courts for public use and the hooks were never at the right height and some were missing so people had to shimmy up the poles and wrap the ropes around the top and hope for the best!
We brought our own portable net which was hard to put up and only stayed up for 10 plays maximum. I remembered playing, we sucked! But we were great at laughing. I think everyone played in high school, but with the sand and diving and the sun it was the best time ever!
In 1992-93 I had a chance to go to San Francisco to start a company Certa Pro Painters. See I started a company after university and like a lot of people in the work world I hated it! I was stressed and had little time off and to be honest I didn’t want to do it anyway. When I was at school I was a college Pro Franchise manager and I did that for 2 summers. I was one of 2 rookie managers hired for the Ottawa Region. Neil McKinnon was the other, and he was the one that convinced me to sell my business to my partner and pack up and go to San Francisco to get a new outlook on life, work hard, but play harder! While we were down there, we played Ultimate Frisbee in the Golden Gate Sport and Social Club. When I left 8 months later to return to Toronto I dabbled in a few things until Neil called me in the summer of 1995 and said: “Remember that sport and social club?”
He took the idea up to Vancouver and started the Vancouver Sport and Social Club. I remembered all the fun we had playing ultimate in California and thinking back to my days at Ashbridges playing Beach Volleyball and that’s when the Toronto East Sport and Social Club was born!
In the fall of 1995 I started working on my business plan (although at the time there were no other sports leagues to model my company after so my business plan was a bit loose! LOL) That Christmas I was in a major car accident and my little Mazda was totaled! My father sold me his jeep Cherokee which became my office and storage room on the Beach. Thanks to 4WD’s!
In the early days I used all portable nets systems. I remembered telling people at the end of the night to please take the nets to my truck not your car! LOL. When I started on April 27th, 1996 with my first Beach Volleyball Tournament (Which it snowed halfway thru) I had spent all of my money on net systems, balls and advertising (flyers)!
I had 14 teams that day, the tournament started a little late as I was just putting up the new nets for the first time and schedules were a bit tough as I didn’t know who would show up! There wasn’t e-mail back then as we know it now so I had to fax all my friends and flyer the neighborhood on my trusty roller blades! When we ended I originally planned to go to the boardwalk Café (BBQ PUB) to hand out prizes and eat chicken wings but they wouldn’t let us because we were too sandy! (A bar on a beach and us too sandy go figure!)So I asked a few people where we should go they suggested Stoney’s. I called up Glen, introduced myself and he said bring your sandy people, no problem. Who would know that was to be the start of a long friendship with Glen and Stoney’s. I handed out prizes and beer and I think that’s where team captain shooters were born! I stood up on the riser and said to everyone: “I’m going to start leagues in 2 weeks!” There was silence “Leagues for Beach Volleyball, how can this be?” at that time there were only semi pro players playing at Ashbridges during the week, but I thought a recreational league was just what the beach needed. So I strapped on my trusty roller blades (again) and flyered everywhere! I advertised in the local papers sign up nights. I remember sitting at Stoney’s for hours night after night until finally people started to show up. Craig Twigger came thru the door at Stoney’s wearing a suit and asking if I was the Sport and Social Club guy? I said yes, he said are there people signing up? I said yes lots of people and lucky for me another girl Sylvie was signing up, so I pointed to her and smiled. Craig pull out his cheque book and said to me I work too hard, I need a social life. Craig was member #3. Sylvie was #2 and Mike Cleverdon was the first! I now had half a team! I was in business! By the way, I am proud to still call Craig and Mike good friends to this day!
My next week consisted of getting up at 8 am, calling all my friends and their friends to give me all of their fax numbers and fax as many people as possible. I would then put on my roller blades and flyer Queen Street and then flyer car windshields and homes, and then go to Stoney’s to wait to see if anyone would show up. ½ a team turned into 1, then 2. Two turned in to 6 then to 8. I decided that I would start comp. 4’s on Tuesdays and Rec. 6’s on Thursdays. Comp. 4’s didn’t exist for Beach Volleyball, but I didn’t have enough players for 6’s and I hoped that by Thursday I would have more players! (My first tournament was the same way we played 4’s so I would have more teams!) Now my days were slightly different as not only was I starting Beach Volleyball, but I had to find Ultimate Frisbee and Softball teams. Now my day went from flyering and faxing from the morning, to setting up nets from 2-4pm, getting somebody to watch the nets while I went to sit/squat at the Ashbridges diamonds from 4-6 pm till Softball teams arrived and then back to Volleyball to get those teams started, then on Wednesdays over to ultimate to get those teams started, then back to volleyball to report scores, and tear down nets (Remember please take the nets to my truck not your car); after all of that, then off to the bar for beer and team captains shooters to where the ultimate and Softball players will meet Beach Volleyball players for a pint, then home by midnight and off to bed and repeat for 3 years!!
My first summer I started with 26 teams in spring 10 4’s teams on Tuesdays, 4 Ultimate Frisbee teams on Wednesdays, and 6 Softball and 6 Beach Volleyball teams on Thursdays. Two problems arose: 1) it rained every Thursday night and 2) I was out of money!! Thursdays became the most social nights at the bar as there wasn’t much volleyball being played because of the rain. Thanks again to Craig Twigger and his team just do me for leading the way! That took care of Thursday nights, but the running out of money was a bit of a problem. So time to strap on the roller blades and advertise a Wednesday night beach league for 6 weeks starting June 5th. I lucked out, 20 teams registered for Wednesday and this brought the league to 46 teams and with summer leagues registration around the corner I would make it thru till at least the end of the summer. The summer leagues expanded to 70 teams and with an end of season tournament fall was just around the corner.
In the fall of ‘96 I started Insideout an indoor Beach Volleyball facility which expanded my leagues to ‘96, but after a long cold winter in a poorly built facility it was time to return to outdoor sports. The leagues expanded from 70 teams in ‘96 to 156 teams in ‘97. I added Adventures to the name Insideout and we started doing weekend trips and events. I also added indoor court sports for the fall of 97, including Court Volleyball, Basketball and Floor Hockey.
I thought maybe, now was the time to get a website, e-mail, and office help. Lawrence Smith of Firesnacks along with Rick Santos and others would help to start the original look and feel of TESSC. I still had to fax and phone like crazy as not many people had emails.
In 1997 I tried my hand at a larger 2-day Beach Tournament and I called it the 24 Hours at Ashbridges. 2 12-hour days of volleyball, is there ever such a thing as too much volleyball? LOL. In 1998 TESSC grew to 258 teams and under the Insideout Adventures name we started doing whitewater rafting, learn to kayak, boat cruises, pub crawls and anything to have fun. That spring, somebody asked me if we were the ones doing the large Beach Volleyball Tournaments with stands and beer gardens at Ashbridges, I said no that was the pro tour we are more like the Not So Pro Tour and hence the name Not So Pro was born.
I remember starting the Not So Pro Beach Volleyball tour with Wasaga Beach the beginning of July. There were only 60 players, I lost my shirt, but man we had fun! A quick story here must be told. Karen Sealey team Bongs and Thongs were nowhere to be found on Sunday finals day, and since we only had 60 players we needed every team we had! I sent the fastest driver I know (Tim Loewen) back to Sunshine Camp Ground to find out what happened to “Bongs + Thongs”. They were sitting around the camp fire enjoying some libations probably still from the night before. Unaware of the time and that the tournament had started, Tim picked up the dome tent thru it in the back of the truck and the team and drove them to the tournament. Arriving just shortly after Richard Lake had entered the beer garden for his first of many beers (but that’s another story). Ashbridges NSP beach tour went up to 100 players I felt I was on to something!
In 1999 the fun begins. All the time while I was growing TESSC we were donating money to a local charity Senior Link, but our fees at the beach were starting to rise and now we were paying $75,000 a year to the City of Toronto. In that summer another group wanted to cut into the action at Ashbridges and wanted the City to divide up the beach. After I had spent all my money and time getting players and developing tournaments and events, and providing what no other else did, co-ed recreational leagues. Once the leagues grew above 400 teams, everyone wanted a piece, not only the City of Toronto with higher fees, but the Ontario Volleyball Association wanted a part of recreational revenues. TESSC at that time was not providing youth programming or men’s and women’s doubles, so I thought lets partner with the OVA and I gave them $17,500 to start these programs.
By the end of that summer the OVA had no youth programs running and had 6 co-ed teams (people from our leagues) and no men’s or women’s doubles teams, but they were quite happy to take the money (as you may know, Not So Pro has been working with Mark Riley and PVB Enterprises to provide youth programming and is pleased to announce and last year alone there were over 400 children, including inner city youth, learning the game of beach volleyball. Not So Pro has also been providing Men's and Women's doubles programs for the past 8 years.) Because I refused to pay any more money to the OVA since no youth or men’s and women’s doubles programs have started, the OVA decided to force the City of Toronto to R.F.P. the Beach Volleyball at Ashbridges. Now just to explain an R.F.P. is a Request for Proposal, which means that my company that I started and built from scratch was now up for a closed bid auction. So any company that offered more money or pleased the City with a better bid than mine would take over Beach Volleyball and my clients and I would be out of business!
The minimum bid was now $100,000 per year for 2 years. I put forth a bid of $100,000 to the City of Toronto and $25,000 to Neighborhood Link and $25,000 to Senior Link (local charities in the Beach who provide many amazing and needed services) I felt that some money should remain in the Beach as it was senior link and the Beach Community that worked with Beach Volleyball players and so the players should give something back. I also did not want 100% of the monies raised for fees to go out of the community and into the coffers of the City of Toronto, but sometimes what you want and what you get are not even close. Even though I won the bid against those bidding or supported a bid against me Beach Blast, the OVA, the Boardwalk Café, John May (of the original Pro Tour), The City’s General Manager had the right to change the proposal after the first year. So they did, and the $50,000 going to local beach charity now went to the City and so now the full $150,000 went to the City in year 2.
In 2003 we were allowed to operate as the City prepared for another R.F.P. and in 2004 my fees went to $175,000 with the stroke of a pen. (Since now no money from your fees was going to local charity I decided to still give 10,000 to Senior Link. At this point we had raised approx. $25,000 plus the original $50,000 from the R.F.P. to Beach Charity). In 2004 a new R.F.P. was released, but then rescinded as the City felt that they wanted more than just Beach Volleyball on the R.F.P. they wanted capital improvement, but they still wanted $175,000 as the base. So now I had a potential of losing my whole business of Beach Volleyball to a company who might build a better building for the City and not even know how to do Volleyball. I tried to fight stating I have no problem competing against others for the right to provide Beach Volleyball, but why was I now supposed to be a construction company too!?
I was also the only sports league in the City of Toronto that was being R.F.P.’d and to this date no other leagues using City playing fields, or beaches have been RFP’d. I won the contract again bidding against Beach Blast and the OVA (it should be noted here that the director of the OVA in charge of bidding against TESSC is no longer at the helm and the owners of North Beach phoned me to tell me that they refused to bid against me because I had started Beach Volleyball leagues and they were against the R.F.P. process, and I thanked them for their honesty and integrity).
So what’s the Cost from TESSC to the City of Toronto?
TESSC paid in 1999 $75,000. In 2000 we paid $100,000. In 2001, including charitable contributions $150,000, to the City of Toronto in 2002 and 2003 $150,000. $175,000 in 2004 and 2005, and $25,000 to the playground was added as a part of our construction commitments. On top of the $125,000 we are donating toward the playground at Ashbridges TESSC will also be donating $210,000 for the rebuilding of the bathing station. In 2006, $185,000; in 2007 $195,000; in 2008 $205,000; and in 2009 TESSC inc will pay the City of Toronto $215,000 plus an additional $100,000 for the final playground fees (In 2005 when the initial $25,000 was put toward the playground, there was to be some type of progress and to this date not even a sign has been erected for the future site. TESSC’s original proposal stated that a charity should handle all the monies for construction, but the City wanted all monies to go again into their pockets. I battled this and other discrepancies in the proposal I put forward which I thought was accepted as a part of my contract drafted by the City in 2005. 2 years later and $18,000 in legal fees, the City final agreed that the monies would be placed into a reserve fund for the construction and to this date the City has not committed to a construction timeline).
Since 1996, TESSC Inc has paid the City of Toronto over $1,510,000 for the operations of Beach leagues at Ashbridges (this does not include tournaments, field sports, or school board permits). TESSC has also donated over $150,000 to charity and committed to $335,000 in capital improvements including the construction of a playground and the revitalizing of the bathing station. TESSC Inc will commit to monies for the bathing station once there is action on construction of the playground. After all it has taken the City 4 years to look into building the playground. I want the bathing station to be built some day by the end of lifetime.
A commitment to construction of the playground must be agreed to by the end of 2009 with construction finalized and the bathing station completed by the end of 2014. I believe this to be a fair and reasonable time frame (5 years for each project from initial payments into the reserve fund).
By the way, if anyone wants to donate money into these reserve funds a tax receipt will be given and a plaque made in honor of the names for those contributors. This again is only fair. These donations will help to build an even better playground and bathing station on top of the commitments I, as Not So Pro, have already made.
TESSC Now is mainly called Not So Pro; once we expanded to Niagara there were too many names. Not So Pro Beach Volleyball Tour, the Toronto East Sport and Social Club, the St. Catharines Sport and Social Club, Insideout Adventures, the Ski and Snowboard Club and the Out of Boundz Adventure Race. It seems only fitting that Not So Pro was a great name to unite all of these leagues, tournaments, events, and adventures under.
Not So Pro has grown to over 100 teams in Niagara and over 800 teams in Toronto year round, and with the Ski and Snowboard club a social sporty networking scene onto itself we certainly have met a lot of great people along the way.
The NSP Tournaments have grown to over 4,000 players, and our parties have exploded to some with as many as 1,300 people (as seen at last year’s Halloween Party). These, combined with our leagues and the Ski and Snowboard Club make Not So Pro Sports one of the largest Sports Leagues and Events Company in North America with over 20,000 people per year.
I will be writing more blogs as the weeks and stories continue, on areas such as the NSP Networking Community, the CANFUND initiative and the future direction of Not So Pro. Stay tuned!
“I am not done yet! I am not done yet! I am not done yet!...”