Dozens of teams, hundreds of players and thousands of dollars flowed into Fort Smith as the former PWK Invitational Volleyball Tournament rolled into town for four days of action.
The tournament has been running as the Lawrie Hobart Invitational Tournament for the past eight years but has a quarter-century of history that stretches farther back than Paul W. Kaeser High School principal Al Karasiuk’s 20-year career in education in Fort Smith.
The tournament’s namesake was a long-serving educator in Fort Smith who was as dedicated to his students’ recreational opportunities as he was to their academics.
“Lawrie was one of the people who started it in the first place and his sport was volleyball,” Karasiuk said.
There were 44 teams registered last year, one more than in 2014, bringing more than 450 players to the high school and the town’s recreation centre to compete in four age groups for players from Grade 6/7 to U-19.The games started on Thursday afternoon, continued to the opening ceremonies Friday night and wrapped up with gold medal games on Sunday.
As always, the teens flocked to local businesses including Berro’s, Rapid Convenience and the Rusty Raven, their pockets stuffed with cash. A steady lineup of about 10 teens at the convenience store on Friday night seemed to be looking for excuses to spend their walking money.
Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce president Janie Hobart, who volunteers annually at the tournament dedicated to her late husband, said the tournament brings in as much as $100,000 of sports tourism revenue to the community each year.
“The businesses support the recreational teams so much,” she said in 2014. “We really appreciate the opportunity to give back.”