In the 1930’s, Chinese immigrants in the US were isolated to the Chinatowns in which they lived due to the language barrier and discrimination. With little to do after hours, Chinese laundry workers in Boston started playing volleyball at the local YMCA. However, the version of volleyball they played wasn’t the version familiar to Western society. Featuring slightly modified rules, the Chinese immigrants played an evolution of the sport that originated from their homeland in southern China, a style of volleyball now commonly referred to as “9-man.”

The first inter-city 9-man volleyball game occurred in 1935 when a team of immigrants from the Chinatown in Providence, Rhode Island traveled to Boston to compete against the laundry workers team. Organized primarily as a social gathering, this early inter-city game provided the participants from both cities with a means to escape the isolation of their local Chinatowns and develop friendships with individuals from other areas of the nation.

In 1937, immigrants from New York City’s Chinatown decided to form a team and join the event. From that point forward, the teams decided to hold the games annually over the Labor Day weekend with the event rotating between the participant cities each year. After all the games, participants would socialize over a large dinner gathering before returning home, eager to revisit their new found friendships the following year.

The addition of a team from Newark in 1939, along with multiple teams from New York and Boston, marked the start of the modern tournament format for the games. From 1939 to 1977, a series of important developments transformed this localized tournament into a national event, with the addition of teams from Washington, D.C. (1946), San Francisco (1959), Los Angeles (1962), and Canada (1970’s). The tournament was then renamed the “Annual North American Chinese Invitational Volleyball Tournament”. The summer of 1976 brought about the introduction of female participants to the games with the first women’s match held between teams from the Boston and New York. The following year in Toronto, a women’s tournament was formed in conjunction with the annual men’s tournament.

The annual NACIVT has continued to expand year-after-year, culminating with the first-ever tournament hosted by Los Angeles in 2009 and establishing the seven-city circuit that exists today. The 65th NACIVT in Los Angeles also saw the first international participants with a team from Shanghai, China as well as first time teams from, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Diego, New Jersey, and North Carolina.

The NACIVT has grown and evolved significantly since its inception in the 1930’s, however the cornerstones of bringing communities closer together and preserving the rich Chinese-American heritage remains the same. For over 80 years, the NACIVT has broken down barriers of gender, age, race, wealth, geography and many others, unifying participants with a common love for the sport of 9-man volleyball.