Chris McComas saw a need for adult sports in East County, so he launched MVP Sports and Social — and hit it out of the park.
When Dave and Kasi Burdwood moved from Boston to Lakewood Ranch in 2015, the only two locals they really knew were Kasi’s mother and grandmother in Bradenton.
High school sweethearts, they grew up together in Maine and were accustomed to sharing friends and adventures. They were in their mid-20s. The prospect of making new connections in East County was exciting, but the process felt daunting. Most of the people who worked with Dave, an architect, were older, and it felt as though most of their peers were just passing through town.
And then they joined a kickball league through MVP Sports and Social, and their social life fell into place.
“All of the friends we have made are because of MVP,” says Kasi, 28. “Every single one of them.”
The Burdwoods are not alone in this sentiment.
Hundreds of people, most of them from Lakewood Ranch, have joined MVP’s burgeoning sports leagues, less for the competition and more for the camaraderie. At 600 members, it is one of the area’s largest networks of recreational sports teams for adults, with players competing in kickball, sand volleyball, cornhole, softball and bowling. With an average player age of 30, it has manifested into the designated social club for easygoing, noncompetitive 20- and 30-somethings in East Manatee County.
The brainchild of Lakewood Ranch residents Chris McComas and his wife, Jessi, MVP Sports began two years ago as a kickball league. Small business owners from Tennessee, the couple arrived in Lakewood Ranch hoping to start another small business, preferably something that, according to McComas, “would bring people together.”
It didn’t take him long to notice a void.
“Basically, we saw a lot of young people moving here that didn’t have other ways to meet people other than co-workers,” McComas says. “MVP Sports grew from that.”
He started his first kickball league with 72 players. Since then the organization has more than doubled its number of participants across almost every sport. Sand volleyball is up from 28 players to 131, making it the largest coed sand volleyball league in the state. Cornhole, which jumped from 72 players to 116 over the past year, is now the largest organized cornhole coalition in the country; San Antonio, Texas, with an 80-person league, is the next largest, according to McComas.
“It was designed for everyone,” says McComas, who played kickball and softball in Tennessee. “It’s great for couples. It’s great for singles. You can be young. You can be old. It doesn’t matter. All that we ask is that you know how to come out and have fun.”
McComas isn’t just an owner. He’s also a free agent, playing (and captaining) teams across the league, nurturing rookies, filling in when players can’t make games and blasting high-energy, dance-party mixes on the sidelines.
His knack for assembling strangers into a cohesive motley crew has earned him respect among players. “I wasn’t 100% coordinated when I started,” Kasi says. “Chris made me feel comfortable. I’ve gotten better because of his support. I’ve seen a lot of people get better because of him.”
With the exception of cornhole at Motorworks Brewing and bowling at AMF Bradenton, most MVP games are played in or near East County. Kickball is held at the Heritage Harbour soccer fields off State Road 64; softball at Fruitville Park; and sand volleyball on the courts at Tom Bennett Park and Caddy’s at the Pointe.
Some people drive from as far away as St. Petersburg and North Port to play. “It tells me that this area is craving fun and socializing, dancing and laughter,” McComas says.
He’s seen a lot of romantic relationships come out of the club — one that seems to be headed for marriage. (The couple just purchased a house together.) He partially credits the group’s success to its active Facebook page. Players document games in photos, videos and comic Snapchat filters, turning the page into a kind of live feed for the “spectators” sitting at home.
“When I was pregnant people would ask me what I missed most,” Kasi says. “The first words out of my mouth were kickball. If Chris’ insurance would have covered a pregnant girl on the field, I would have been out there playing.”
IT’S ALL IN THE NAME
Coming up with a solid kickball team name is a competition in itself. Here are the Top 10 team names, according to Google.
- Free Ballers
- Sons of Pitches
- Pitches Be Crazy
- Liver Let Die
- Straight Ballin’
- Booze on First
- Balls to the Wall
- Ball Busters
- Saved by the Ball
- The Ballbarians