Blanton, Dain 1971–
Dain Blanton 1971–
Beach volleyball player
It used to be a game played just for fun on the sand. Today, beach volleyball has gone professional, offering thousands of dollars in tournament prize money. Not only is Dain Blanton one of the sport’s best and most popular players, he was also the first and only African American on the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) tour. A beach volleyball pioneer, Blanton has worked to attract more young blacks to the sport. To that end, he spends time with young people in the Dain Blanton Inner-City Youth Program. “I wish more African Americans played,” he told Jet magazine, “and if I can interest a couple of kids, it’s worth it.”
Blanton, who was born on November 28, 1971, grew up in Laguna Beach, California, a resort town between Long Beach and San Diego. He says he had positive role models from his family and his community, which was very nurturing. His school teachers stressed the importance of education, something he has never forgotten. In addition, a Boys and Girls Club was located only a few blocks from his home. This gave him a positive outlet not only for honing his athletic skills but his leadership qualities as well.
When Blanton was 12 years old, beach volleyball came to Laguna and was received with great enthusiasm. The beach became so crowded for the games that spectators began arriving the night before to get a spot, and sometimes they brought their own couches with them. Although he already played baseball, basketball, and soccer, Blanton fell in love with beach volleyball. “I thought it seemed like such a fun thing to do,” Blanton told the Orange County Register.
As a senior at Laguna Beach High School, Blanton was named Orange County Player of the Year (1990) and Most Valuable Player of the Pacific Coast League, in addition to winning all-American honors at the Junior Olympics. He was growing into a balanced volleyball player with exceptional power and grace. But sports were not his entire life. His teachers stressed that if he kept his grades up and showed athletic ability, he was likely to earn a scholarship to college.
That is exactly what happened. Although he was offered several basketball scholarships, Blanton’s heart was devoted to volleyball. He accepted a full scholarship to Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. During his sophomore year, he led the volleyball team, the Pepperdine Waves, to a national championship. Blanton graduated from Pepperdine with a degree in
Born Blain Danton, November 28, 1971, in Laguna Beach, CA. Education: Pepperdine University, public relations, teaching degree.
Career: Professional beach volleyball player. Joined AVP pro tour, 1994; first tour victory, 1997; joined BVA tour, 2001.
Addresses: BVA Tour, 13955 Stowe Dr., Poway CA 92064.
public relations and went on to acquire teaching credentials. As it turned out, he decided to teach young people in other ways.
Blanton turned professional in 1994, joining the AVP. He was immediately a standout as the only African American on the tour, a fact that did not bother him personally but one that he was determined to change. As Blanton explained to Contemporary Black Biography, there are so few African Americans in volleyball because “they don’t have access and exposure to the game as with football and basketball.” In an attempt to change that, Blanton began the practice of conducting clinics in major cities where he played, talking to young people about getting a good education and setting goals, as well as offering pointers on the game.
Blanton’s first victory on the pro tour came in the summer of 1997 and it was also the richest payoff in pro beach volleyball history—the $300,000 Hermosa Beach AVP Grand Slam. True to his commitment to youth, that same year he set up “Dain’s Day at the Beach,” clinics in volleyball for young people in Los Angeles and surrounding areas who would not generally be exposed to the sport. Besides learning the basics, the clinics stressed education and setting goals for the future.
Blanton then began a brief professional partnership with Kent Steffes, gold medalist in the 1996 Olympic Games. Together, they won a bronze medal at the Inaugural World Championships of Beach Volleyball. Later, in the Dominican Republic, Blanton entered the Federation of International Volleyball (FIVB)/Norcia Open and scored his first international career victory. In 1998 Blanton, who now ranked number five among all pro players, partnered with Eric Fonoimoana, and the two began to scorch the beaches on tour. They won the first event of the 1999 season at Clearwater Beach, Florida, and consistently placed in the top five at domestic tour events.
Beach volleyball had become an Olympic sport in 1996 and Blanton and Fonoimoana set their sights on the next Olympics. They began the process of qualifying for the 2000 games. However, they ran into a snag in the form of the AVP.
Blanton’s contract with the AVP extended through the 2003 season. Under the rules, the AVP owns a player’s rights as to where he or she may play. But in order to qualify for the Olympic games, Blanton and Fonoimoana played in some volleyball events for the FIVB overseas during the summer before the games. As a result, the two were suspended.
Thus began a six-month battle between the two players and the AVP. When it ended, Blanton and Fonoimoana were able to get out of their contract. They not only entered the 2000 Olympics, but won the gold medal in beach volleyball for the United States. As a result, Blanton was chosen as Grand Marshal to lead the Patriot’s Day Parade in Laguna Beach in 2001.
Instead of returning of the AVP, both Blanton and Fonoimoana joined the new Beach Volleyball America (BVA) tour in 2001. Though grateful for the opportunities the AVP has given him, Blanton felt that the BVA offered some necessary changes to the sport. The BVA follows the rules of international volleyball more closely than the AVP. Also, as in international volleyball, the court for BVA games is smaller and the ball heavier. Blanton believed that this can only help American athletes, who would be training the same way as their international competitors. Additionally, in the BVA both men and women compete in the same city on the same site. Blanton believed this will give the sport more continuity since fans can watch both men’s and women’s volleyball at the same place and sponsors will not have to compete with each other. Blanton believed these changes give new life to the sport of beach volleyball.
His talent, along with his good looks, have opened new career doors for Blanton. He signed a modeling contract with the Ford agency and is frequently sought after for product endorsement. Blanton viewed his new modeling and endorsement career as a means to promote his sport. The more visible he became, the more exposure volleyball received. Despite his contributions to volleyball’s increasing popularity, Blanton was aware there is a limit to the sport’s growth. He told CBB, “It’s a lifestyle sport with keen competition and athleticism. It’s enjoyable and it will certainly grow in popularity. But I know it will never reach the top level of some other sports.”
Throughout his highly successful career, Blanton has remained foucsed on his two goals: to be a leader in his sport and to encourage young people to do their best. “They see someone who has done something different,” Blanton told the Orange County Register. “The kids may now see that they can go any path they want to go. And they see you can be the first to do something.”
Jet, August 31, 1998.
Orange County Register, January 18, 2001; February 1, 2001.
Additional material for this profile was obtained from a personal interview with Contemporary Black Biography.
—Corinne J. Naden and Jennifer M. York
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