This week’s Big South National Qualifier in Atlanta is the country’s biggest single-weekend volleyball tournament. It’s bigger than usual this year because the event won’t occur over Easter weekend, as happens occasionally. Without the holiday in play, a record number of teams will compete. While tournament director Lauri Dagostino couldn’t say yes to every one, 1,404 of the 1,521 squads that applied were registered. In total, 15,600 girls ages 8 to 18 will fill 11 of the Georgia World Congress Center’s 12 exhibit halls. Here, we look at how a “mom-and-pop” event that started in Tampa evolved into a massive tournament in Atlanta.
Dagostino and her husband, Randy, launched a single club volleyball tournament 27 years ago in Tampa. Dagostino admits she didn’t think of the event as a major economic driver until much later, and long after the event became the Big South. Twelve years ago, the Dagostinos knew they’d outgrown Tampa Convention Center and were prepared to move north—to Orlando. That is, until a persistent salesperson from the Atlanta CVB wouldn’t take the hint when the tournament organizers wouldn’t take his calls. In hindsight, Dagostino is glad she finally talked to Jeremy Rubin.
Big South Moves
Among Rubin’s biggest gets as sales manager at the Atlanta CVB for more than a decade: the SEC Football Championship, the 2003 NBA All-Star Game, the 2011 WrestleMania and two Final Fours. But none of those prestigious events may have the lasting power of the annual Big South. Rubin guessed that would be the case. He saw volleyball on the rise and reasoned volleyball parents are generally affluent and likely to spend significant dollars in town. So he pooled together Atlanta’s hotels and Georgia World Congress Center to make an offer the Dagostinos couldn’t refuse.
The tables were turned when Rubin decided to move on from the CVB. “We couldn’t lose him,” says Dagostino. In February 2011, Rubin went to work with the Dagostinos as the first full-time employee at Tournament Magic as vice president of business development. Now in charge of Synergies21, an events company he founded in 2014, Rubin still works with the Dagostinos on several national volleyball events. Among them: Capitol Hill Volleyball Classic in Washington, D.C., Jersey Surfside Festival in Atlantic City and Mizuno Boston Volleyball Festival.