|Beach Volleyball: Fan is a one-man, on-line encyclopedia on the sport|
By Alan Keck
Most sports fans only dream of becoming a part of the sport they adore, but Dennis Wagner is doing more than that.
He's changing the very nature of international beach volleyball, and he's doing it all from a computer terminal in his home.
Wagner operates the online Beach Volleyball Database at www.bvbinfo.com. Currently it's the only Web site of its kind in the world.
For most professional sports there are many resources to get background, history and statistical data on athletes and events. Not so in professional beach volleyball.
Until three years ago, players, publicists, media or fans who wanted information on professional volleyball players had to do extensive, time-consuming research. Now, most of what they need is only a mouse-click away.
The extent of Wagner's data is impressive. If you want to know who's had the most victories, who's ranked number one, who's won the most tournaments or won the most money, it's all there on Wagner's site. Some of the data goes as far back as 1948.
There's also current beach volleyball news, photographs, tournament schedules and volleyball history.
Tim Simmons is press operations officer for the Association of Volleyball Professionals, and he believes Wagner's efforts are having a major impact on the sport.
He says that the depth and accuracy of Wagner's data has changed the way players approach the game.
"Volleyball players in general are more interested in the moment. Most are weekend warriors and never tracked themselves," Simmons said.
Many now take a broader look at where they are and how they compare to other players from around the world. Where players once only thought about the next match, they now set long-term goals based on their standing among the other professionals.
"It's a sport where legends are being made, and Dennis is a part of that," Simmons said. "He's earning a national reputation."
This isn't Wagner's first foray into online sports information.
"I've always been into math and statistics, and since I've been 12 I've done my own football rankings and things like that," he said.
At one time Wagner operated college and pro football ranking sites, but found his calling in beach volleyball.
"AVP was publishing their ranking system, but wasn't publishing their rankings. I could get the tournament results so I started publishing my own," Wagner said. "And it kind of grew."
That could be an understatement.
Wagner keeps up with where all the players finished every week and how much money they earned. He cross-references all the information so viewers see whom athletes have played with in the career and how they've performed at each tournament site.
"Any question I think you could ask, I try to provide (the answer)," Wagner said.
When the Los Angeles Times was doing a story on beach volleyball legend Sinjin Smith, it called Simmons, who got the necessary background and statistics from Wagner's Web site.
Wagner puts in an average of 90 minutes each day on the site and sometimes is up to midnight compiling data.
"Some people hunt; some people fish. I do this," he said.
He is a quiet man with a big brain. He's a graduate of Old Dominion University and has a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and a masters in computer engineering.
He's an information technology consultant with Metro Information Services. He and wife, Lisa, have a 9-year-old daughter Elizabeth, and a 5-year-old son, Dennis.
Wagner played volleyball in school, but his interest soared in 1984, when the United States won Olympic gold in men's volleyball. He started playing again and fell in love with the sport.
To some, he is better known as "Dr. Ono," a name that serves as his e-mail address and license plate.
In the early '70s, Wagner was a fan of Wacky Packages, stickers that made fun of everyday products.
In the '90s, he operated a Web site that bought and traded the collectible stickers. He needed a nickname relevant to the business, so he chose the name from "Dr. Ono's crackpot Brain Opener," a parody of Drano drain cleaner.
The nickname stuck, and now when beach volleyball players from around the world send e-mail to Wagner, they address it to email@example.com.
And the players appreciate his efforts in ways Wagner did not anticipate.
"There was a female player being audited by the IRS, and she actually used some of my data to prove the money she'd won," Wagner said.
Perhaps most amazing is that Wagner does all this for free.
"I do the work because I love the game," he said.
Simmons can't quantify Wagner's contribution to the game.
"If we would lose him and what he has, we would be in a world of hurt," he said. "There's no one else like Dennis."
Reprinted from "The Beacon" insert in The Virginian Pilot
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