BIG LAKE — Hundreds cycled through the 33rd annual Big Lake Lions Club Mud Volleyball Tournament to spectate from the sands or lob balls in the mud. Teams gleefully tossed around in the muddy waters as their friends and family cheered them on.

“To have a group of 500 plus people get together and get along… and dance to the music, it just doesn’t get any better than that,” Third-generation Lions member and tournament coordinator Jaime Estes said.

This is the Lion’s Club’s largest fundraiser of the year, operated completely by volunteers in the club and from the community. Estes said this event helps them cover a range of projects throughout the year, including efforts that rise to specific occasions like aiding wildfire victims.

“All that money stays in the community when there’s a need,” Estes said.

It takes about a week to set up with more than six months worth of planning. Bill Haller said it’s a lot of work but nice to see so many people having a good time which all supports the club’s efforts in the community.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Haller said.

Haller said a lot of people really get into it and like to cut loose for this unique, local summertime favorite. He said that a lot of teams come back every year. Teams form from a variety of sources, whether it’s a close group of office colleagues, old friends or family members or people who only recently met.

“There really just isn’t anything like this,” Haller said.

Team sizes were 10 people with eight in the pit. Haller noted that all teams have to be co-ed. The event is free to spectators, but funds raised from team registration fees and general donations go toward the club’s overall operations.

“An event like this is awesome. Anything that gets the community together is fun,” mud volleyball player AJ Gazzillo said.

Maggie Okakok said that she recently met Gazzillo and several other people on their impromptu team. She said it was her first time trying it out

“I met half these people today,’ Okakok said with a laugh. “This was like the best experience.”

Haller said the pits are in the same spots every year and the several local fire departments fill them with water, noting that it also serves as a training exercise for the firefighters.

About 55 teams signed up this year. Haller said 80 teams participated last year and credited COVID-19 to the declined attendance this year.

The tournament normally takes place in June during the weekend before Summer Solstice, but it was delayed this year due to the coronavirus.

Haller said they placed several sanitization stations around areas, and teams had to sing risk mitigation papers to play.

Estes has been involved with the mud volleyball tournament for 13 years. She said that she’s a lifelong Big Lake resident and loves seeing all the comradery this event brings out of people; plus, it’s a “chance to give back.”

“A lot is up in the air this year because of COVID,” Estes said. “I’m actually really happy we were able to move forward and able to make this happen.”

Mud volleyball player Blake Elder has been in the tournament about 10 times. He said the atmosphere is very friendly and it’s fun for the spectators and the players.

“It’s not like normal volleyball, so it really levels the playing field,” Elder said. “I think it is just a time to kinda cut loose and it’s like a good tradition. Every year, everyone is looking forward to it.”

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at

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